Watershed Materials - Technology for New Concrete Blocks
The block with a smaller carbon footprint.
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Story - Evolution of Watershed Block from Rammed Earth

Watershed Block combines rammed earth history and modern technology to make a sustainable, beautiful building material with recycled content and low cement.

Evolution of Watershed Block™ from Rammed Earth

Watershed Block takes its root from the ancient past - the adobe and rammed earth walls of Babylon, the Ming Dynasty, and the casbahs of Marrakesh. Humans have been converting raw earth into building products for ten thousand years, yet over most of the intervening millennia, little has changed in the technology.

Beginning in the mid 1970’s, lead in large part by Watershed Materials' sister company Rammed Earth Works, the practice of rammed earth began to experience a renaissance. Builders around the world refined the methodology and revived a lost art. Rammed Earth went from a status of “what?” to “wow!” It is beautiful, energy storing, low carbon, and durable.

Watershed Materials had the idea to capture the beauty and sustainability of rammed earth and squeeze it into the size and shape of the common concrete block.

It turned out that making a rammed earth block as strong as concrete isn’t easy. A Phase One Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation funded a study of applying nanoparticles and geopolymerization of naturally occurring aluminosilicates to replace cement in the block formulation. The Phase One grant was successful and followed up with an even larger Phase Two SBIR grant from the NSF. Watershed Materials reinvented the concrete block machine to apply compressive forces so great as to actually lithify mineral grains, turning sediment into stone.

Based on years of research and decades of experience, Watershed Materials has successfully blended the aesthetics and resilience of rammed earth with the familiarity, speed, and affordability of the common concrete block. Small change - big gain.

Evolution of co-founder and president David Easton :

David Easton began his career as an inventor of earth building technologies in 1954, in the soil of his father’s orange grove in Anaheim, California. The thick adobe walls of the California missions and the cool interiors of the low ranch houses of the early California land grant families were his introduction to the architecture of earth.

Enrolled at Stanford in 1966, he studied engineering and architecture, graduating in 1970 with a degree from the product design department, the forerunner of Stanford’s famous D school. In 1975 he purchased 130 acres of Douglas fir and red clay in the Sierra Foothills to experiment with alternative earth construction methods. 

In 1978, David Easton founded Rammed Earth Works and began to fashion the foundations of what would become the modern rammed earth movement. Today Rammed Earth Works is a consulting and artisan construction firm specializing in the technologies and formulations of stabilized earth across the globe. David is the author of the definitive book on Rammed Earth and numerous articles and presentations. He is the inventor of the California forming system for rammed earth, now in use on five continents, and of the PISE method of high-pressure air installation for monolithic earth walls. His engineering approach to stabilized earth construction resulted in the first building permits issued in seismic zone 4, and his dedication to low-tech construction solutions has contributed to the global renaissance of rammed earth. In 2009 he co-founded Watershed Materials LLC with Joe Dahmen, a specialist in sustainable building technology and Jose Munoz, a materials science expert. Watershed Materials is a research and development company focused on technologies for manufacturing low carbon structural earth masonry units. At Watershed he and his team have invented the vertical shaft high shear mixer and the dynamic compression block production line.

David has been involved in the design, permitting, and construction of over three hundred stabilized earth residential and commercial projects. His client list includes Fetzer Vineyards, Stags Leap Wine Cellars, Long Meadow Ranch Winery, the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, Disney Worldwide Services, River Ranch Farmworker Housing, Camp Arroyo Environmental Education Center, the Rukinga Garment Factory in Kenya, Tim Mondavi, Barry Schuler, Al Merck, and Mike Korchinsky.

He has lectured at Stanford, MIT, CAL Berkeley, UC Davis, University of Oregon, SCIARC, SFIA, University of West Australia, University of Auckland, University of British Colombia, and the College of Architecture Grenoble. He has conducted training programs in Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Brazil, Kenya, Canada and the US, and has introduced the concept of earth masonry units to the design team at Masdar City, United Arab Emirates.

David is currently consulting with Sostenica (Sustainable Development Fund of Nicaragua) on a 30-unit affordable housing “pocket neighborhood” cooperative in Nicaragua using earth block and other sustainable technologies.

In 2002 David established the East Maui Environmental Research Center which focuses on sustainable island building practices. He and his staff are growing bamboo and coconut palm for structural construction elements while investigating the lava and native aggregates for use in wall systems that will deter fruit rats and termites, the bane of tropical building materials. 

David holds a BS in Product Design from Stanford University, class of 1970.

Watch a video of David Easton describing the evolution from Rammed Earth to PISE to Watershed Block.

David Easton standing on an in-construction wall built of Watershed Block, which can be thought of as a third generation of  rammed earth technology. High pressure hydraulics consolidate select mineral compositions into mass produced masonry units.

David Easton standing on an in-construction wall built of Watershed Block, which can be thought of as a third generation of  rammed earth technology. High pressure hydraulics consolidate select mineral compositions into mass produced masonry units.

First generation code-approved rammed earth in which freestanding panels are built with site soil in re-useable forms.

First generation code-approved rammed earth in which freestanding panels are built with site soil in re-useable forms.

Second generation rammed earth in which high pressure air and big hoses impact a soil cement blend against a single sided form, dubbed PISE for Pneumatically Impacted Stabilized Earth.

Second generation rammed earth in which high pressure air and big hoses impact a soil cement blend against a single sided form, dubbed PISE for Pneumatically Impacted Stabilized Earth.