This week in lab, we built turf walls to combine with the previous week’s wood tent, to recreate a traditional Icelandic booth (“tjald-buo”). We constructed our turf from a few different styles of block or strip, and my group, D, made Glumbauer blocks to build one of the longer walls. These were a longer style of turf block, with a length of 60 centimeters (or the equivalent of 4 shovel cuts), a width of 15 centimeters (1 shovel cut) and a depth of 8-10 centimeters. But before we split off into our own groups to begin cutting, we all spent a bit of time setting up the tent initially to size the foundation of our booth, and one group took on the task of removing turf from the inside of the foundation to use for the wall.

Cutting Data:

Around 1:20, my group began cutting out our Glumbauer blocks. We ended up making 19 blocks in total, which served as the lower layer of one of the longer booth walls. Using a spade, we marked out several rectangular trenches and cut out blocks out of those, using a spade and a tape measure to ensure the proper length and width, and a sod knife to cut off excess dirt and roots to get to the desired depth, which was often more challenging to achieve than length and width. We made vertical cuts on the shorter ends and cut at a 15 degree angle on the longer ends, and used our spade and/or our hands to lift the blocks out and stack them to be transported over to the foundation. Overall, our blocks were fairly consistent in size, with some minor difference in length and width. This depended on whether we measured with the tape measure or used the shovel, which was more imprecise but easier. With depth, we often had to estimate on the initial cut, and then cut off any excess once we had removed the block from the ground. We also had to figure out how to work around roots and rocks that we encountered while digging, which happened fairly often, slowing us down and making it harder to achieve the right dimensions.

There was a lot of variation in the time it took to dig out our blocks. It took 12 minutes to dig out and shape our first two blocks, which averages out to a rate of about 6 minutes per block. It took us 16 more minutes minutes to dig out four more, making for a faster rate of about 4 minutes per block as we got better acquainted with the process. We expanded on our trench with each block we cut, and we typically paused every three to four blocks to mark out enough space to cut out three more blocks from the trench. Measuring out a few blocks in advance saved a lot of time, and we did overall work quicker the more blocks we cut, but there was not an overall steady reduction or consistent rate in the time it took us to cut our blocks. This was due to a few factors, like the roots and rocks we had to work around and the tools we experimented with–spade versus shovel versus sod knife. This table provides examples of the times it took us to dig out blocks, at different points throughout the course of the lab. Often, the blocks that took the longest to dig out were the beginning of a new trench, and the quickest ones, like the 12th block that took less than half a minute, was the final block in a trench so we only had to dig out one side.

Block number (out of 19)Time
1st block6 minutes
6th block4 minutes
10th block3 minutes, 7 seconds
12th block25 seconds
18th block 1 minute, 28 seconds
Times it took to cut blocks at different points throughout the lab

Building Data:

Once we had 19 Glumbauer blocks, we began to bring them over to the booth to construct our wall. We laid horizontally at an angle, with the dirt side on one block against the grass side on the next. After this, we tamped our blocks down and filled in gaps with extra soil, and all groups worked together to add layers of “stringir” on top, which were thinner, longer strips that were placed with the grassy side up. Our dimensions ended up being slightly larger than expected, likely due to the extra dirt we added, initial size inconsistencies of each block, and the layers on top which may have added slightly to the measurements I got of length and width of our layer. We were supposed to add a second layer of Glumbauer blocks on top of the stringir strips, leaning in the opposite directions as the first layer to create a herringbone pattern, but ran out of time to do this. However, all of our walls ended up around 2 feet thick, per the lab manual, which was scaled down 60 percent (just like our tent) from the dimensions of a traditional turf building. Once our walls were built, we reconstructed the tent!

Wall dimensionFinal measurements
Height11 centimeters
Width64 centimeters
Length335 centimeters
Final dimensions of our layer of the wall

Qualitative Findings:

Like with most other skills we’ve learned in lab, there is a low barrier to entry for turf-building, but it clearly takes some experience to become truly skilled at this process. We were fairly successful in cutting our blocks, but still dealt with some size inconsistencies and struggled somewhat with efficiency. I appreciated getting to experiment with different tools and adapting to how each one impacted the process. The raw materials we were working with, the soil and grass, created some difficulties in the process, as many groups noted that they had to cut their blocks and strips around clumps of roots, rocks, and clay. Overall, it was really cool to see the final product and to continue the work we had started week 8.


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