Studio Anna Heringer is a world renowned leader in architecture using low-tech, sustainable materials like mud and bamboo. Often working with local craftspeople, the Studio has created structures from China to Switzerland, Bangladesh and beyond. The results are at once beautiful, resilient and sustainable, giving craftsmen and communities the confidence to choose traditional building methods and materials instead of modern and/or western influenced materials such as cement and steel.
Heringer first gained recognition for her design of a primary school for the Modern Education and Training Institute (METI), an NGO operating in the impoverished northern village of Rudrapur, Bangladash. With the METI Handmade School, so called because it was made entirely by human labor, mostly local residents (with help from four water buffalo!), Heringer sought to demonstrate that larger, highly functional, well-designed structures can be built using “simple,” traditional materials. She strengthened traditional earthen walls by adding local sand, straw, and clay to the mix—which made the material pliable enough to form a series of “play caves” within the building for the children’s recess. A brick foundation (with bricks sourced from local craftspeople) and a plastic moisture barrier further improved the traditional design. Bamboo and nylon lashing provided the structure for a second floor of classrooms.
To Heringer, the impact of the school on the village went beyond education. It was about the intangible feeling of pride village residents had when they saw their beautiful craftsmanship incorporated into a well-built two-story structure. The school soon became a catalyst for further development in the community.
Subsequently, in partnership with local architecture students from BRAC University in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Heringer designed three model houses for low-income families that used coconut fiber for insulation, and bamboo for everything from stairwells to latticed screens that protect earthen walls from erosion.
More recently, Herringer has worked in China where in only a couple of years, more cement has been consumed than in the United States over the entire twentieth century. This trend towards materials that consume energy and emit CO2 is contributing to climate change. Instead, mud, stones, timber, bamboo and earth are effective options without the impact on the environment.