An Investigation On Physical Environment Of Earth-Sheltered Buildings

Bilginer M., Yağmur Ş. , Sakantamis K.

Livenarch-VII 2021; OTHER ARCHITECT/URE(S) Congress, Trabzon, Turkey, 28 - 30 September 2021, pp.1-2

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Full Text
  • City: Trabzon
  • Country: Turkey
  • Page Numbers: pp.1-2




"Underground" as a term comes with lots of biases which create an issue for users of architecture and even architects. Using the term as an earth shelter house is an euphemistic way to use the underground house. Simply describe, if the building uses the earth as a thermal mass, it is an earth shelter building. For this, the house can be covered on all sides or partly with soil. Also, synonyms are earth house, earth-bermed house and underground house.


The first shelters of human beings are the existing caves. For many years people lived in the underground for higher safety and climate-resistant conditions. So, humanity already familiar with the underground habitats. With technological development, the architectural sector had a distant for a while. Underground architecture has been a shelter protecting people from the past such a natural cave to today such modern houses related ground. The existing issue of underground development is not only in the past but also some studies even argue that it will be the saviour of people in the future due to various reasons such as changing climatic conditions and increasing human population etc.


This study is aiming to evaluate the physical environment conditions of earth-sheltered buildings and evaluate the impact of Turkish and Greek architect’s bias on the same. For this purpose, firstly historical and technological development are assessed, then advantages-disadvantages are discussed, and by conclusion possible future expectation are also investigated. Current work is executed through a web-based survey which included modern earth-shelter building made by Greek and Turkish architect. Project also presents a case study where one of the earth-sheltered building was analysed to understand building physics conditions.


The methodology includes a web-based survey, evaluation field and users survey and works of literature review around the keywords of "sustainability", "traditional architecture”, “underground”, “earth-sheltered house” and ”building physics conditions of underground houses”


After the 18th century, there was an energy crisis in the world with the industrial revolution and the rapidly growing population. In '70s, back to the land movement took place between environmentalists and architects. One of the consequences of this movement is the earth shelter structure. Prejudices are the biggest known reason why underground architecture is not common. Many studies have been revealed in earth sheltering sustainability and its suitability to building physics conditions. Mike Oehlar has shown in his books that underground houses can get natural light and do not require expensive constructions contrary to popular belief. Rob Roy, a colleague of Mike Oehler also defends low to moderate cost methods and he believes that these methods can be learned by the owner-builder. Malcolm Wells has devoted his life to explain the importance of underground architecture that they are environmentally friendly and energy-efficient.


There are many studies in the academicals literature. Sydney A. Baggs compared attitudes of residents of aboveground and "dugout" dwellings in Coober Pedy, Australia in 1980. The study on annual energy consumption amounts is a post-Occupancy evaluation of residents of single- and multi-family earth-sheltered housing-Janet Bartz; Made in Minnesota, the USA in 1980. Other researches and theses including energy analysis and user questionnaires, applications and principles. (Cook, 1978) (Bice, 1978) (Lab, 1975) (Therman, 1980).


Studies in recent years not only show the improvements in earth shelter but also increase awareness. Researchers developed a theory about the dynamic thermal dimensioning of underground space (Kajtar, Nyers, & Szabo, 2015). This study broke one of the disadvantages of predicted soil behaviour. Studies examined energy savings (Anselm, 2011), comparatively analysis (Benardos, Athanasiadis, & Katsoulakos, 2013), annual thermal performance (Zhu, Li, Tong, Yang, & Li,2018). Measuring people’s perception of earth-sheltered buildings using a photo-questionnaire survey is a study (Hassan, Sumiyoshi, El-Kotory, Arima, Ahmed, 2015) that gave a presentation to the samples after that the researchers measure people's attitudes changed bias.


Using the earth as a thermal mass for buildings gives many advantages if design considers such as providing waterproofing, strong construction against soil load, proper orientation, etc. met. Earth shelter building provides reduced maintenance costs through energy conservation, structural durability. The thermal lag effect of the soil provides cool summer and warm winter to users of the earth-shelter house. The other advantages are protection from many natural and man-made disasters, acoustical isolation, maximum land use and aesthetic gains through the elimination of “visual pollution” and the overtaxing of senses.


The future expectation from earth-sheltered are megastructure, underground cities, more development city infrastructures not just as tunnels road, metro lines and also public spaces and retails. For an explanation of future expectations, examples such as Coober Pedy and Path in Toronto have reason to use underground cause of the harsh climatic condition; Earth scraper in Mexico and Singapore underground city project were best examples for the reason of intense of heritage and crowd are in the city centre.

As studies of Heba Hassan et al., this study also showed that Turkish and Greek architects were initially biased against underground architecture, but these prejudices changed with modern examples. Earth shelter building analyses and the annual energy consumption amounts analysed have been supporting previous studies.