[Homestead] Tvo post- Finally, dirty housing hits front page and code-approval Apr 99
becida at comcast.net
Fri Oct 14 22:56:54 EDT 2005
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 1999 11:14:50 -0400
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From: Tvoivozhd <tvoivozd at roanoke.infi.net>
To: "homestead at listserv.oit.unc.edu" <homestead at listserv.oit.unc.edu>
Subject: Finally, dirty housing hits front page and code-approval.
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This is Nader Khalil's version of adobe housing---Portland mix in
laid-up bags and tubes. I think adobe blocks or compressed-earth blocks
are better, though reinforcement in earthquake country is more
complicated, except in domes which are the most earthquake-resistant of
However, because of its peasant-connotations, it has always been a fight
to build these low-cost, fireproof, inhospitable-to-insects mud houses
in the U.S.---and except in the Southwest building permits are by
exception and not by rule..
This N.Y. Times article points out that Nader Khalil has finally gotten
code approval for his structures. With this to point to, it should be a
lot easier to expand the concept elsewhere.
Shelter Made of the Earth's Own Dust
Shelter Made of the Earth's Own Dust (6 photos)
By FRANCES ANDERTON
ESPERIA , Calif. -- O N a windy March day in a park here,
Australian Aborigines, American survivalists and members of a rain
forest action group teamed up to mix a slurry of earth, water, sand
and cement to help build a museum. They pumped the mixture into
plastic sandbags hundreds of feet long, laying the sandbags in a
large coil. Later they sat inside an intricate brick dome as the four
Aborigines sang ancient songs. It was, said Samuel Parish, one of the
group, "incredible to hear their voices echoing in the dome."
A New Age moment, you think. But what brought four men from
Australia; two avid readers of American Survival Guide/The Magazine
of Self Reliance; Gabriel Reyes, a builder sent by the rain forest
group Oasis Preserve International in Costa Rica, and their
co-believers to this spot was the chance to learn how to build cheap,
easy, earthquake-resistant and quirkily beautiful buildings. They
were learning by participating in the construction of earthen
structures, including a 9,000-square-foot museum made of sandbags
filled with earth and cement. The occasion was a $2,000-a-week
workshop put on by the California Institute of Earth Architecture and
taught by Nader Khalili, an Iranian-born architect turned
For eight years, Khalili's Cal-Earth Institute has taught people the
art of building from raw elements. In 1974, Khalili quit designing
high-rises to spend five years traversing Iran and studying
indigenous structures. He subsequently wrote "Racing Alone: Fire and
Earth, a Visionary Architect's Passionate Quest" (Cal-Earth Press,
1983), a treatise on the spiritual power of baked-clay, or ceramic,
architecture and of Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet who he said
taught "the unity of the elements and the soul."
Khalili became convinced that any effort to change global attitudes
about building had to start in the United States, the place that
third-world builders currently emulate. He decided to start in
California, whose earthquakes would present his buildings with their
He acquired some cheap land in this dreary high-desert city northeast
of Los Angeles. With its extreme climate and sandy earth, Hesperia
would be, he felt, a good laboratory. Cal-Earth's center here
consists of a simple cottage with a 7.5-acre yard out back and a
garage. Assisted by students, Khalili and his partner and
administrator, a British-born architect named Iliona Outram, used the
yard to erect arches, domes and vaults of handmade adobe bricks,
factory-produced bricks and earth-filled sandbags. Their experiments
with a building system that they named Superadobe eventually produced
a spacious, three-vaulted, three-room house on the lot -- an Earth
One house, they call it.
Superadobe buildings are made of self-supporting sandbags wound in a
coil or laid like very big bricks. The sandbags are mildly reinforced
with barbed wire and finished in stucco. Some incorporate chimneylike
"wind catchers" for cooling and solar panels for heating.
Superadobe construction is strong, cheap, even fast. (With a pump,
sandbags can be filled at a rate of 10 to 15 feet a minute.) And
because it requires relatively little skill, Khalili maintains that
it can be used in the third world and as emergency housing, as well
as by Americans trying to avoid a high-consumption life style.
The city of Hesperia might be the embodiment of consumption, filled
as it is with sport-utility vehicles and tract homes, each with a
well-watered lawn and year-round air-conditioning and heating to fend
off 100-plus highs in summer and winter chills. Hesperia is the
seeming antithesis of Khalili's aspirations.
Yet this latter-day frontier town has commissioned a public building
of Superadobe: the Hesperia Museum and Nature Center, now being
erected in a park beside the town lake at a projected cost of $1.2
million. The Hesperia Recreation and Park District is putting up
$250,000 of the total; Cal Camara, the general manager of the
district, said he hopes that the rest will come from grants and
The brick Rumi Dome where the Aborigines sang is the museum entryway;
the sandbag coils the team laid down are the bases of 11 20-foot-wide
domes that will encircle a 50-foot main exhibit dome and courtyard.
In addition, the city has said it will allow Earth One houses with
three or four bedrooms to be built here. (Plans for the four-bedroom
model, at 2,000 square feet, are $550. Khalili estimated that the
house would cost $75,000 to build, including labor, materials and
utilities; plans are available from (760) 244-0614.)
To make all this possible, Khalili had to demonstrate that Super
adobe could pass stringent seismic tests and other rigorous building
code standards, a process that lasted years. As Tom Harp, Hesperia's
planning director, noted in an article he wrote for Building
Standards, the organ of the International Conference of Building
Officials, "If we hadn't been trained to be courteous, we would have
laughed out loud" when Khalili first proposed making buildings out of sandbags.
But the city enlisted outside experts, and finally approved the
building of Superadobe structures -- "a very significant step in
legitimizing earth architecture," Khalili said. Now he and Ms. Outram
are trying to get the Superadobe technique included in the
International Building Code.
With the museum (which was started in 1996 and will be completed in
2000, if the rest of the money can be raised), Khalili is hoping to
show that brick domes and Super adobe not only are cheap and
practical but also can be poetic and beautiful. Already local
residents are entranced by the delightful, if alien, Rumi Dome. A
group of American Indians plan a powwow there in May. (The Rumi Dome
and the rest of the museum
construction site are open to the public free on the first Saturday
of each month. Information is available at Cal-Earth's Web site,
But Cal-Earth has its critics, particularly among architects who
object to what they see as regressive building techniques. Peter
Berman, an architect working in Montana, said that earth architecture
cannot possibly attain the economies of scale of conventional buildings.
"These homeopathic construction systems send technology backward," he
said, adding that technology lets designers make buildings lighter,
stronger and more transparent. "People do not want to live in thick,
echoing domes." Moreover, homeowners might run into trouble when they
try to install standard doors and windows in their idiosyncratic
Home-building, he said, is "best left to the professionals."
So far no one actually lives in any of the school's domes; in fact,
none are equipped with the utilities that even a self-respecting
environmentalist would require, though visitors regularly stay
overnight in them. It has taken several years to build just a few
structures, and the Superadobe system is still, Ms. Outram said,
"more piecemeal and low-tech than one would like."
But enough people are convinced by the concept and the philosophy to
take a leap of faith. The Aborigines flew thousands of miles to learn
a technique they hope to apply on a piece of land inherited by one of
their number, Michael Woodley.
The team from Oasis Preserve International -- Reyes and three
Americans -- were introduced to Cal-Earth by their founder, Woody
Harrelson. "We were interested in the technology because it's
tree-free," said Brian Machovina, assistant director of Oasis, the
rain forest preservation group.
Parish, a Florida high school teacher, was attracted to Super adobe
as a low-cost way to build his own home. He said that he and his wife
wanted to be "completely self-sufficient, to grow our own food and
have a strong family based on the home." He plans to start building
his home in Florida if local building officials give their approval.
Over the years, Khalili has acted as a consultant to NASA, which
considered his ceramic architecture as a possible habitat on the
moon. And at the Cal-Earth center, Khalili has welcomed a party of
Iranian scholars of Rumi, who saw the poet's essence in the Rumi Dome.
But of all the Cal-Earth enthusiasts, the survivalists -- known for
their apocalyptic view of world events -- are perhaps the most
unexpected. After an article on Cal-Earth appeared in March in the
American Survival Guide, promoting Cal-Earth's architecture as not
only low-cost but resistant to gunfire and explosives, Cal-Earth
received more than 300 inquiries, including one from Parish. Khalili
and Ms. Outram said one woman drove from Arizona and bought $850
worth of sandbags and a set of plans. Then she drove back, determined
to build a house for herself in four months, before her baby was born.
Khalili said that this mode of building touches a chord in many types
of people because "the timeless forms and timeless principles satisfy
a vast horizon of human needs." Earth architecture exists at the
point, he said, "where poetry has crystallized into structures."
>>>tvoivozhd---if you want to see a picture and have access to the N.Y.
Times, here is the URL. I don't like to send or
receive attachments since the recent virus explosion affecting e-mail.
So the copied text doesn't show the pictures of the buildings.
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