Gabion Walls Make Green Sense

Gabions can be used for landscaping, erosion control, or for walls in structures. Photo:

Gabion baskets, traditionally used for building retaining wall and controlling erosion, also can be used as a homebuilding product for emergency settlements or by those wishing to construct walls using new material approaches.

Colorado architect Doug Eichelberger has used gabion baskets to construct an experimental building on his ranch southwest of Larkspur, CO that he now uses as attractive free-standing barn. But he is most interested in the potential use of gabions where natural or human-caused disasters have occurred and there is a critical need for emergency housing.

As Eichelberger writes: “In war and natural disaster situations, emergency housing is one of the first requirements in the lives of survivor/refugee population. Gabion baskets are most often used for erosion control along rivers and streams. The baskets can also be used in a vertical wall structure. Because the baskets are easy to transport and assemble, they can be taken (even by mule) to the most remote locations. The baskets can be filled with rubble from destroyed buildings, then left as is or covered with indigenous mud stucco finishes. The baskets can be arranged into homes or refugee barracks.

Eichelberger says these are features to this structure:

  • Baskets can be filled with stone or concrete rubble
  • Baskets are easy to transport to remote locations, where they can be filled with material of choice
  • Weight of filled baskets makes for stable floating foundation
  • Inexpensive materials are used for fill

Gabions were initially used to protect river banks. Photo: Maccaferri

A couple of places worth visiting for gabions are and Maccaferri.  Maccaferri, based in Williamsport, MD is a pioneer company in gabions, constructing its first wire basket in 1893.

According to Maccaferri, the first gabion retaining structure was constructed in 1893 to retain the banks of the River Reno at Casalecchio. It took 650 workers, 34 days to install the 2,900 gabions.

Gabion retaining structures are rectangular wire mesh baskets that are usually (concrete rubble, in some cases) filled with rock at the project site to form flexible, permeable structures such as gabion retaining walls for commercial, industrial and road projects. They are also used for erosion control for bank stabilization, channel linings, and gabion weirs.

Gabion strength lies in its double twisted hexagonal mesh of steel wire which is reinforced by selvedges of heavier wire running along the edges and by transverse diaphragms. The wire will not unravel even when cut. Assembly is easy, requiring no specialized labor and nearby rock is used for fill.

Gabion retaining structures are available with different levels of protective coating for durability. With estimated 30% voids, gabion structures also offer free drainage.

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