Earth construction Biography

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The shine of shells and sand in shades unseen till now

Carl Giskes found a new fashion in wall finish that is swiftly giving him fame earth construction. This modest, tall man based in Amsterdam holds the secret of maybe the most exciting plaster ever. His organic and health improving ‘Tierrafino ®’ clay finish provides designers and architects with shades of colour unknown until today. In all European languages distinguish 25 colours and in idiomatic usage they have 600 names for differing shades, but ‘Tierrafino ®’ mixes give a multitude of that and produce a truly unlimited palette. On top the opaque plaster has the shine of shells and sand and a freshness as enchanting as early spring time.

In France, Switzerland and Spain, throughout Europe in fact, designers and architects cannot withstand the aesthetically alluring possibilities ‘Tierrafino ®’ offers. Outside the European domain it goes to Hong Kong, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Libanon, Canada, Mexico and the US. In the US the Hopper Company introduces this ecologically sound clay plaster that Carl Giskes found and that he developed for interior and exterior in six standard colours. All colours complement each other and can be mixed to create attractive options; really a list of shades. The standard colours are: Delphi-white; Roman-ochre; Djenné-red; Iquitos-green; Gomera-gray and Nassau-orange.

Carl Giskes, 1949, globetrotter born in Germany, was in the summer of 1989 experimenting with mixing sands and clay for decorations on newly clay plastered walls the brown stone of a friend, in the vicinity of the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum. By chance the musician/artist John Cage from the US was visiting the house at the time. It may have been the master’s magnificent smile - Cage was nearing eighty - that made Carl realize he had found something perfect. By now we know he had given new life to the ancient building material clay. He had found a plaster that is colour and stucco combined. The raw materials come from the deep layers of different quarries around Europe. ‘Tierrafino ®’ contains no chemical or pigment additives.

In Africa, the continent Carl Giskes encircled during his seven year walking-trip, first along the east side from Tunis to South-Africa, then walking the west side, he felt the day-today beauty of clay building in all its aspects and was in sheer admiration when he stumbled upon the mighty city of Djenné, known as the world’s most beautiful city, and completely built in clay. Trained as an engraver and as an ornamental paver he was only 21 when he saw Djenné. No wonder the young artisan came to celebrate the ideas of the revered Egyptian earth-architect Hassan Fathy who pleaded: ‘Give us the courage to build schools that emanate the peace of the holy earth.’

‘The warm feeling you have when you live in clay in the so-called ‘Third World’ you don't feel in the West,’ Carl Giskes says. He actually lived with primitive people in their clay houses for many years during his world tour on foot. Clay, loam or mud, three words for the same organic building material, breathes thirty times as much oxygen as brick and a hundred times as much as concrete. The amount of silicon in clay is the same as the amount of silicon in the human body. Their inner electric capacities are alike. Clay consists of 50% oxygen, 40% silicon and 10% minerals, trace elements and enzymes. Europe’s royal houses have always built their castles in clay. Quedlinburg castle and town near Halle in Germany was put up in clay from the 10th century onward. The area is meanwhile proclaimed a ‘European Monument’ by UNESCO.

Carl Giskes found not only art nestor John Cage on his path. Twelve years earlier, coming back to Europe after journeying Africa, the Americas and Asia, visiting 78 countries, he came to work closely together with Germany’s famous artist Joseph Beuys for several years. First Beuys asked him to run a branch of his ‘Free International University for creativity and interdisciplinary research’ on a castle in the German Eiffel mountains. Then, for the Kassel Documenta 1982, social sculptor Joseph Beuys made Carl responsible for finding 7000 basalt stones from different quarries and have them transported to Kassel. The pillars, 450 kilos each, he had to throw as a triangular mountain in front of the Friediricianum and teach young workers how to place the pillars next to each of the 7000 oaks when they were planted around Kassel. The pillars mark each tree as a Joseph Beuys art work. The next year Carl drilled large, round holes in 160 basalt pillars and the same size hole in the exhibiting museum’s wall for Joseph Beuys’ impressive project ‘The end of the 20th century’.

It was in Kassel that Carl Giskes met earth architect Ir. Klaus Johannes Eckert, admirer and student of the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy. Eckert came to the Joseph Beuys information tent to know to more about Beuys. It turned out Ir. Eckert was the first professor of clay building in the western world at the University of Kassel. Having found his teacher, learning how to work with clay was now Carl Giskes’ goal. He stayed at Eckert’s side for the next few years.

Professor Eckert and Carl Giskes were still together when I invited both to Amsterdam to assist in the creation of an Adobe Pavilion for my initiative ‘Art meets Science and Spirituality in a changing Economy’; panel meetings in which for instance American artist Robert Rauschenberg sat with the Dalai Lama of Tibet, the implicate order scientist David Bohm and Russian economist Stanislav Menshikov at the first of five days of meetings.

Carl Giskes did not leave Amsterdam thereafter. In a letter of the late eighties he writes: ‘Dear people, My motivation is to build healthy houses.’ That is what he did ever after. The number of clay building projects realized surmounts 500 by now. His enterprise ‘Leembouw Nederland’ is producer and deliverer of clay products, building contractor and instructor for building and plastering with clay. Trained applicators is one of his key messages. His firm has built and/or plastered villas, housing development projects, schools, shops, farms, museums, factories, a cinema, a court house, a new age centre and an engineering firm, as well as government offices of all sorts like tax offices and town halls and the nature protection headquarters of The Netherlands. ‘An increasing number of architects realizes that the choice for clay is in the first place a healthy choice’, says Carl, who travels all over to teach.
Especially designers and architects are addressed, but also those who want to refurnish their home themselves, and professional plasters, as well as universities and centres of learning for ecological building.

In 1994 he introduced his fine earth finish, now known as ‘Tierrafino ®’, to the international building industry for the first time. Newspapers reacted pleased that the natural clay plaster is colour and finish combined and results in a stucco that breathes. The press joyfully acknowledged that the most important aspect of this innovation is optical - namely that clay can be used as a light, delicate building material. ‘Carl Giskes’, it was said, ‘has brought the use of earth clay finishes to new heights of elegant design and simple, dignified beauty. His finish has the translucency of a sun-drenched beach.’

The way Carl Giskes builds with clay is revolutionary in that ‘Tierrafino ®’
allows a smooth form and finish in tune with the Post Modern style of today. He for instance creates extra shine on ‘Tierrafino ®’-plastered walls by polishing them with agate stone. The natural ingredients give a livelier wall than plasters that close off the surface. Clay is ecologically as well as economically an interesting finish. ‘It has become fashionable to live in clay,’ Carl explains, ‘even if it is only for the extra oxygen.’

‘Tierrafino ®’ clay plaster can be applied on all types of surfaces. Walls of plaster board, painted walls, concrete, flaking plaster and shiny surfaces should first be coated with a primer. Seems need to be covered with joint tape. Mix a 25 kg standard sack (55 lbs.) of ‘Tierrafino ®’ with 6 litres of water. Stir until the mix is smooth. Applied with a trowel in 2 to 3 mm (1 inch) thickness this will cover 7 square meters (8 square yards) wall. ‘Tierrafino ®’ dries within 24 hours. To prevent it rubbing off you need to wipe down the surface once it has dried with a wet sponge and then go over it, steadily, with a soft brush.

Once applied the colour of ‘Tierrafino ®’ never changes and is easy to repair. Even after years impairments can be mended without showing, by applying the same mix of colours. Walls plastered with ‘Tierrafino ®’ are easily made to look anew when washed down again with a wet sponge and rubbed with a soft brush again. If you want to change the colour of your walls at a later date, just sprinkle ‘Tierrafino ®’ powder onto a wet sponge and apply this to the already plastered wall. With a minimum training the DIY enthusiast can quickly pick up the skills to do a professional job. Professional plasterers find ‘Tierrafino ®’ easy to use.

Carl Giskes is currently working with applicators sent by the Hopper Company and many other plasterers from Europe at the EXPO 2000 in Hannover, Germany. Dennis Hopper says: ‘Trained applicators is one of the key messages.’ The multinational group of plasterers plaster 5800 square meters outdoor ‘Tierrafino ®’ on towers, pavilions and winding walls around a long bendy area designated to the theme ‘The Evolving Gardens’. These evolving gardens, its pavilions and the spacious park to the south of the site, are designed by the Berlin-based landscape architect Kamel Louafi, originally from Algeria. The gardens run parallel to the nations’ pavilions at EXPO 2000. Carl Giskes sees no end to his work: ‘It has always been my wish to modernize the use of clay. With this I am giving clay its place in today’s world.’


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