VORTRAG – Ferenc Zamolyi & Ulrike Herbig – Reed as building material – a renaissance of vernacular techniques
Ferenc Zamolyi & Ulrike Herbig
Reed as building material
A renaissance of vernacular techniques
Presented at the International Symposium on Advanced Methods of Monitoring Reed Habitats in Europe
Nationalpark Neusiedler See – Seewinkel
A – 7142 Illmitz
Reed and grass is widely used in many traditional building cultures all over the world. Its easy availability and good material properties have made it a popular component in roof, wall and other constructional parts of houses. In some areas whole buildings are built out of reed, and in other areas again it is used in combination with a variety of other, mostly natural, building materials. After presenting different examples of the use of this special material from Oceania, Asia, Africa and America, we will focus on the harvest, processing and use of reed in the middle-european region.
The use of reed in traditional architecture is mostly connected with the lowland regions of Europe, as in montainous areas wood as construction material and especially wooden shingles as thatching were always given advantage over the slightly more ephemeral reed. Also the fact that in mountain areas less reed is available and in the lowlands wood is scarce led to the evolution of a very typical appearance of lowland villages with reed thatched houses.
Especially in the carpathian basin and around lake Neusiedl the use of reed has a long tradition. This tradition continues until present day, albeit on smaller dimensions and somewhat transformed compared to the „ethnographical” past, when only natural materials were used in rural architecture.
Today it is at least as expensive to cover a building with reed than with ceramic tiles. However many people feel still attracted to the peculiar appearance of the more traditional material, and commission the use on newly built houses. In some special areas, which are under cultural heritage protection, only the use of traditional materials is allowed.
Even so, the total amount of buildings with reed roofs has decreased to a small amount, which means, that there are only a few craftsmen left, who are still adept in reed thatching techniques. One aim of our research was to get an insight into the working procedure of these craftsmen.
Interestingly the modern building industry also uses a number of products manufactured out of reed – usually they are used as composites in combination with other building materials – reed mats as reinforcment under plaster layers or to enhance insulation properties.
As lake Neusiedl is not only a local, but also a major source of reed for the middle-european region (a substantial part of the harvest is exported to the Netherlands and Germany) the traditional and present use of reed as building material in its sourrounding is worth to be studied more thouroughly.