A Nubian vault is a type of curved surface forming a vaulted structure. The Nubian Vault technique is an age old method of timberless vault construction, originating in upper Egypt. It uses only earth bricks and earth mortar. Nubian vaults built over 3,000 years ago at the Ramesseum mortuary temple, Luxor, are still standing.
One of the key advantages of the Nubian vault is that it can be built without any support or shuttering. The earth bricks are laid leaning at a slight slope against the gable walls in a length-wise vault. The same principle can be used to build domes.
Their catenary geometry puts all the forces in the building into compression. No formwork is used, enabling a space to be enclosed with no wood except the tiny amount necessary for block forms.
Water- and weatherproofing is incorporated into design with an additional layer of enriched mud mortar covering the roof and optional additional lime or tar finishes, depending on local conditions. Designs can use simple standard vaults or use reinforced pillars and beams to open up larger spaces. Doors, windows, interior finishings and accommodation for electrical wiring and plumbing can all be incorporated. In more advanced applications, the vault technique can also be incorporated as one of many elements in more sophisticated architectural designs.
See how a nubian vault is built. In the video below a man uses sun-dried earth bricks and earth mortar, keeping the arc constant with a guiding line.