The world in a grain – or when we run out of sand?

Howard Mc Allister, a researcher at the University of Hawaii, estimated that the number of sand grains at all the world’s beaches count to around 7.5 quintillions or 7.5 billion billions. I have no idea if this number is correct and even if it sounds a lot, sand is a resource, which is an essential part of everybodies life. In his book “The world in a grain” the author Vince Beiser explains the importance of sand for our modern industry and society.

The book describes the increasing dependence on sand in (nearly) all of our areas of life, although the start of this “success” story was slow.
At the end of the 19th century, concrete (enormous amounts of sand are required to produce it) started its journey from England via France to America. After a laborious start, his successful story started in 1906 right after the earthquake in San Francisco. A single concrete building, that survived this quake undamaged, became the unrestricted advertising symbol for this material, despite the fact that some brick houses also survived. This earthquake made it possible for concrete becoming the number one material of modern architecture. To be mentioned: the Panama Canal, the Hoover Dam, the Guggenheim Museum in New York and countless Bauhaus buildings.

Further on, one of the first sand demanding projects was the Interstate project in the United States, which was at that time the biggest public project in US history. In 1904 the United States had a grand total of 141 miles of paved roads (not counting city streets). If you wanted to move lots of people or large quantities of goods any significant distance, you did it via water or railroads. That could not last in a country where everyone suddenly wanted a car. But a car without pavement is like a pair of skis without snow. The ascent and ultimate dominance of the auto required the deployment of vast legions of sand. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who in 1919 joined a disastrous military truck convoy, crossing the country from coast to coast on poor or non-existent roads, was elected president in 1952. Driven by this frustrating experience he did everything to realize the Interstate Highway system. Today we are talking about 2.7 million miles of paved routes in the U.S. (runways, parking-places, swimming-pools ….)

Obviously concrete is not the only driver for the increasing demand for sand. Modern architecture as well as many other industrial branches are big consumers of glass, which basically is also produced from sand. On top of that, the high-tech industry uses a lot of silicium, which is also – surprisingly – based on sand.

The following chapter focuses on the development of artificial islands, where the various projects in Dubai are well-known, but actually they are not the only activities in that field. According to a study by Deltares, a Dutch research group, since 1985 human beings created more than 15000 square kilometres.

In many of the described examples it is not only about serious business, but also about crime, where people were killed for …
So, whoever is interested to read more details and to learn more about this very important resource is welcome to read Vince Beiser’s book.

PS: Here you can find another interesting article about this topic: Demand for Sand: the largest mining industry no one talks about

PPS: And just to be clear: I don’t get any commission from Amazon or anybody else for this review.

Traditional Japanese wooden techniques – Introduction of a practical usage and a basic interlocking joint system.

Ways to recognize the Nature

” Remarkably, there is evidence that modern Asians also tend to see the world as consisting of continuous substances, whereas modern Westerner are more prone to see objects.”

This is one of a sentence extracted from [1]. The book also mentions the difference in the way Americans and Japanese recognize objects and says that, through certain experiments, Japanese are more likely to identify objects through “substances”(material) and their relations to their surroundings.

From ancient times, Japan has had a belief that all beings have been given a sense of life. They have not placed a hierarchy between nature and have set themselves down in the same part of the world. In other words, more than interpreting nature objectively, they were used to capture the “substances”. This integrated perspective, in which to have no hierarchy between nature, tends to remain when they treat timbers in architecture and even in nowadays has evolved in various forms as unique skills.

Principles of Traditional Joints

Traditional Japanese wooden technology is well known for the details of joints and fittings, so-called “Tsugite” and “Shiguchi” Tsugite is the name of joints for beams and Schiguchi for Column. At the end of the 1980s, a book of joints and fittings was published by Gengo Matsui entitled “Wood Joints in Classical Japanese Architecture”. These systems are well known to create an ” interlocking joinery” with successfully combining physical properties such as ” Bearing Force” (1. Parallel to fiber 2. Perpendicular to the grain) and “Shear force”. The Geometry is carefully controlled to achieve adequate performance on each joint. For example, by taking advantage of the anisotropic character of wood, joints which are based on the ” Bearing Force perpendicular to grain” works to resist seismic loading (see below). Joints between column-beam are called crosspiece joint (Nuki-joint, Fig.1-1) and joints between column-foundation are called embedded-column base joint (Hottate-Bashira, Fig.1-2).

Fig 1 Nuki-Joint Fig 2 Hottate-Bashira

However, due to the slippage on the contact surface, there is a time lag before the mechanism of embedding occurs, and this can cause a decrease of initial stiffness, which might not be accepted to satisfy the clearance required for facades. Therefore, it is normally desired to be integrated with a highly rigid element such as “tilt stability of columns” or “mud walls” to compensate for the initial stiffness. It could, however, be designed without these reinforcements when those risks have been removed in advance. For instance, in GIFU ACADEMY OF FOREST SCIENCE AND CULTURE abundance of this “Nuki” mechanism (Fig.2) has been utilized. The structural joinery system not only works effectively against seismic load but also matches perfectly with the concept of the design.
Bearing system at GIFU
Another good example is MINAMI OGUNI TOWN HALL (structural design by YSD) which the “embedded column-base” has been utilized.

Fig 3-1.

Fig. 3-2. Embedded Column Base during the construction

Fig 3-3.Nuki-Joints

Fig 3-4. Carpenter chiseling column head

Fig 3-5. YSD Yamada Noriaki Structural Design Office

lso, there are the Daimochi joint, the Okkake-Daisen joint which is applied mainly in a part to carry shear forces and bending moment, respectively.

“Daimochi Tsugi (Shear resisting joint)”

A joint applied in an area mainly to resist shear forces. The cross-section of the shear-forced area can be almost fully utilized. This is an effective geometry since the end shear strength of the wooden beam is well known to be significantly reduced by a notch

“Wedged and halved scarfed joint, Okkake-daisen-Tsugi”

A joint mostly utilized in a part to carry the bending moment. Resist to bending with a Bearing force parallel to the grin in each nailed area.

Introduction of practical utilization

In follow would be introduced a project, which are designed with the utilization of traditional Japanese joints.


AWA High School Martial Art Hall

YSD Yamada Noriaki Structural Design Office

Coexisting than Dominating

Why use such a complicated joint that requires complex machining in the first place? It sits on the idea of regarding nature as something alive, in this case, the idea is to understand the substances of wood. Wood is a material that cracks and deforms due to drying shrinkage and creep, so it moves over time. The feature of this joint system is to assume that “movement” naturally comes up and to accept it in a certain level. We use interlocking joinery since the woods comply in harmony with each other and therefore try to confine the amount of foreign material, like steel. It’s more the idea of “coexisting” or “accompanying” than “controlling” or “dominating.

This idea of coexistence is not limited to the joint. In all of the aforementioned cases, sufficient workshops were held in advance at the site to figure out and understand standard length of locally sourced trees , sizes, species and any other characteristics which the tree possess. And also the performance of the CNC processing machine. The structural plan is built based on this research. It’s a passive approach, but it enables it to design under local circumstances. Traditional joining can be adopted for buildings up to a certain scale as long as the wood processing is accurate.

Encouraging locals to participate and designing with locally sourced materials will not only promote the circulation of forests in the area, but will also enable the architecture to be loved and carefully maintained.

[1] The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why, Richard Nisbett Ph.D. | 1. April 2004

[2] 日本人にとって自然とはなにか,宇根豊 ,筑摩書房, 2019/7/10

[3] Design Manual for Engineered Timber Joints, Architectural Institute of Japan, 2009