Looking for a Minimalist Wall Design


What is the simplest, cheapest, and least labor intensive method for constructing a decent house wall? I’m looking for the absolute simplest way you can think of or discover online. Preferably, something that follows building codes, but any ideas are welcomed. If we could simplify walls into a minimalist construction, then construction could become a lot easier and cheaper. Feel free to get creative or share a link.


That depends a lot on climate and where you are. In the US, the Model Energy Code says a lot about minimum standards.

Fine Homebuilding and Journal of Light Construction are my favorite resources for articles and information.

Here’s a FHB article.

JLC framing resources.


Here’re some cool minimalist walls I’ve discovered.

Earthbag walls:
They’re dirt cheap, but require hard labor lifting tons of heavy dirt bags. Although, earthbag houses don’t really fit my tastes. I’d prefer to have non-porous walls.

3D printed walls:
Can print a house in under 24 hours for about $10,000, but isn’t available to purchase yet. Also, organizing rectangular or otherwise angular furniture in a round house is pretty difficult and reduces square footage.

What if we combined these two into a 3D printer that prints walls with dirt?
The 3D printer could melt rocks and sand in the dirt to create a solid glassy wall.

Another idea, a single material wall.
Ideally, I want a unibody wall comprised of only one material. Structural stability, low cost, and other other key properties are a must.

I’m still looking for more options, so feel free to share any minimalist walls you know of.


Well, there are SIPs. Maybe two materials sandwiched together, not one, but it’s a monolithic construction material and can be CNC’d in the shop before delivery.


Cross Laminated Timber is becoming more common around the world.


I’m guessing that melting rocks and sand to create glass during the 3D printing process would be very expensive in terms of energy use. So this might not meet the “cheap” criteria.


Good luck - unless you’re building in a climate that needs no insulation!

Why? ALL forms of insulation are materials that trap the air within the wall into lots (1000s at least, perhaps millions) of air pockets - the ultimate goal is to stop convection current movement of air within the walls. Generally speaking, at least with existing materials, the better the insulation value, the worse the structural value (except, perhaps, for foam in place insulation, but that requires at least one skin, so couldn’t be a unibody!).


Lightweight expanded concrete blocks are the most common “unibody” wall material in our parts. Here you need a 500 mm thick wall to meet the code (U value = 0,17 W/m2K)


I did a quick Google search on “Lightweight expanded concrete blocks”, hoping to find a weight or density. I didn’t find it. However, I nonetheless suspect that the necessary (per @Anssi - I didn’t try to verify) 500mm thickness would still be heavy - as “lightweight” is used here, it’s a relative term.

Heavy enough that you would have to install/erect an assembly with lots of small(ish) blocks connected with some sort of mortar, or use heavy equipment to erect/connect premade panels. I doubt either of these approaches would constitute simultaneously the “simplest, cheapest, and least labor intensive” criteria.

Come to think of it, I’m highly doubtful it’s possible to satisfy all 3 of these criteria, much less with @forestr’s preferred unibody wall.


Sorry, my own flawed translation from the Finnish manufacturer’s pages. The Wikipedia term is “Autoclaved aerated concrete”.


What about a 3D printer that uses a really strong magnifying glass to melt the dirt into lava? That’d be relatively cheap.


For some definitions of “cheap”! Yes, you wouldn’t be paying anything for the energy necessary to make the lava, but I suspect it would take a very long time. The video showed a 45 second exposure of “dirt” to the focal point of the fresnel lens in order to create a (visibly) red hot dot which the video calls “lava”. But is it? It certainly doesn’t show it flowing - which is a property I associate with lava.

But OK, let’s assume he managed to create lava. I can see two ways this might be used in a process that includes 3D “Printing”:

  1. Previous labor builds up a mound of dirt and the printing process scans the surface creating a rocky (cooled lava) surface. Placing the dirt will likely be a labor intensive process, so it thus fails the “least labor intensive” criteria. OR
  2. The “lava”, once heated to the flowing point is directed by a 3D printing process to lay down a wall - much like miniature walls are created in hobbyist FDM 3d printers. In this case, the 3D printer is likely to either be ridiculously expensive (blowing the “cheapest” criteria) or work at such a small scale that the mere labor of supervising it while it creates a livable house becomes, itself, prohibitively expensive.


Theoretically, you could melt the dirt faster with a stronger magnifying glass. The amount of heat exerted by the magnifying glass is relative to the amount of light the magnifying glass captures and focuses onto one spot, so it just needs to capture more light and focus it into a narrower spot to be stronger.

A conventional large 3D printer would be extremely expensive, but I’m sure designers can design cheaper builds. Perhaps, by switching materials from metal (metal is expensive) to wood, except when necessary?

Ideally, I was hoping for something simple, like an easy to make composite material. Preferably made from natural materials which are abundant around us, like earth, sunlight, etc. Natural materials (like dirt, rocks, and vegetation) are free, so we would benefit from figuring out a way to turn them into quality building materials. Not to mention, finding a viable alternative to lumber would reduce deforestation.


There have been efforts to introduce it here in the states, but it hasn’t really taken off, as I understand it. IIRC, you can cut it with a hand saw almost like wood?


I think that two books by Christopher Alexander and his team, “A Pattern Language” and “The timeless Way of Building” might serve as inspiration in your quest.


Actually, I just attended a seminar on the use of “mass timber” where Alan Organschi made a very convincing argument for the use of wood through harvesting old growth timber and good forestry management through new growth.

Gray Organschi example projects
Research organization, Timbercity with a lot of ties to Yale, both Architecture school and Forestry School
Research material presented


This is such a vague title, as to be all but useless.

Please define some parameters.
Internal or External Walls ?
Climate: EU/USA/Desert/Tropics/Arctic,
Height of the building: single/one story are simpler - multi-story are obviously more complex.
The local level of technological ‘sophistication’ [perhaps compared to the ‘West’]: Mud, Wood, Concrete, Steel, Glass, Inflatables etc…
Budget: e.g. I can devise a minimal wall that costs little, or one that cost millions…
Codes to which it must adhere - in a remote jungle it’s likely to be relaxed, but in Manhattan it’s going to be very restricted.
Max wall thickness [and dimensions?] - thickness of 100mm/4" is very limited, and under 300mm/12" has limited solutions, but if you’d accept 500-1000mm./20-40" then there are many possibilities - e.g hay-bale construction…

A “minimal wall” is perhaps a sheet of glass [or several sheets of glass in a multi-glazed assembly].
This will appear to be the least, and with enough sophistication it might be the best structural or energy efficient solution etc. But it’s only available if you have the money for it…
However, a few sticks interlaced and coated in layers of straw and cow-dung could provide a more economic and feasible solution in rural Africa !


You’re right. Sorry about that. I changed the title from “Minimalist Wall Design?” to “Looking for a Minimalist Wall Design”. Hopefully that’s a more understandable title.

Let’s just focus on the external walls for now.


10’ tall with a possible roof deck.

I have access to technology and modern building materials, but I’d like to figure out a way to make use of free natural materials. I’m also open to using cheap building materials because I like to be resourceful.

I don’t mind having thick walls. The house design has a rectangular footprint measuring around 20’ - 45’ x 15’ - 20’.
I’ve never heard of a hay bale wall. It sounds interesting. Thank you for sharing!

I guess my ultimate goal here is to make house design less confusing and more affordable without sacrificing the quality of modern housing.


a straw bale wall will be post and beam construction with straw bales filling the voids.
Compacted earth walls is also a possibility but none of these are “new ideas”
Low cost construction typically utilizes materials local to the actual building site.


I don’t think anyone has mentioned concrete, another not new idea used extensively by the ancient Romans.
A modern take on on this is to build the formwork from polystyrene ‘blocks’ that are left in place after the pour to provide insulation.