The objective of the Terra project was to develop the conservation of earthen architectural heritage into a science; a field of study; a professional practice; and a social endeavor through the following components:

There is a wealth of earthen architectural heritage the world over and thus a widespread challenge to preserve this important legacy. From entire cities to monumental sites to intricate decorated surfaces, the range and complexity of earthen architectural materials and applications makes conserving this heritage a formidable task.

In academia, earthen architecture and materials are largely absent from courses on history, design, and construction technology. With earthen structures constituting only a fraction of new construction in the industrialized world, there is no industry to support continued investigation of earthen materials and their applications. As such, the scientific and technological research base for earthen architecture and its conservation is very limited compared to that of stone, brick, and timber. Procedures and information are frequently borrowed from other fields, such as agriculture and road building, but significant differences in application often preclude a direct transfer of technology. The result is a fragmented body of knowledge.

The late 1980s and 1990s witnessed considerable advancement of the earthen architecture conservation field through a series of international conferences, training initiatives, and the formation of national and international committees devoted to the cause—and a network of practitioners, scientists, and academics was established through these opportunities for exchange. Institutional commitment has lagged behind, however, along with support for larger scale initiatives and collaboration. Institutional involvement and cooperation are key in developing the broad-based support needed for the conservation of earthen architecture.

In November 1997, following their collaboration on PAT96 (the first Pan-American Course on the Conservation and Management of Earthen Architectural and Archaeological Heritage), the International Centre for Earth Construction—School of Architecture of Grenoble (CRATerre-EAG, the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and the Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) initiated discussions to establish a joint program in the study and conservation of earthen architecture.

These organizations recognized—through their independent and collective activities in earthen architecture conservation—that the most successful means of leveraging resources and developing the field was through partnership. Having a long history of involvement in the field, these institutions created a cooperative framework—Project Terra—to promote the study and conservation of earthen architecture heritage. Within this framework for international collaboration, the partners drew on expertise gained from previous institutional activities such as ICCROM/CRATerre-EAG's Gaia Project and the GCI's research in the field.

Page updated: December 2006