Earthen construction is a loosely defined term covering both the materials and methods for creating structural components from mixtures of subsoil, often with the addition of chemical or mechanical stabilisers. There is evidence of Man creating earthen structures for thousands of years, and there are many world heritage sites containing earthen structures, some of which present issues in terms of conservation. In some parts of the world there is a growing market for new-build earthen structures and a key issue here is the lack of design codes. Since these materials are composed mainly of particulates and water it is natural to regard them as geotechnical in nature, where friction and the presence of water have a key influence on material properties, however until very recently this was not the case, with earthen construction materials regarded as weak concrete or masonry. In this paper we examine these opposing views and discuss the issues associated with regarding these materials as unsaturated soils. The paper is illustrated with outcomes from research at Durham University carried out over the past ten years.