Catalyst House

The Amazing Cal-Earth SuperAdobe Building Method

Nader Khalili invented SuperAdobe

Nader Khalili – visionary, architect, teacher extraordinaire, humanitarian, super-adobe inventor, Rumi scholar.

I have had the pleasure of three visits to the incredible Cal-Earth Institute, in Hesperia California, in recent months.  Our visits have set the stage for Cal-Earth indigenous earth-bag building techniques to be utilized by the Gandhi Worldwide / AVANI Center in Kolhapur India.  The Cal-Earth story and that of its founder’s revolutionary building techniques deserve no small mention and appreciation.

The global need for housing includes millions refugees and displaced persons – victims of natural disasters and wars. Iranian architect, author, visionary and Rumi-Scholar Nader Khalili (1936-2008) believed that this need can be addressed only by using the potential of indigenous earth construction.

Khalili SuperAdobe renderingAfter extensive research into vernacular earth building methods in Iran, followed by detailed prototyping, Khalili developed the sandbag or ‘superadobe’ system.  The basic construction technique involves filling sandbags with indigenous (to a given area) earth and laying them in courses in a circular plan. The circular courses are corbelled near the top to form a dome. Barbed wire is laid between courses (creates a ‘velcro’ effect) to prevent the sandbags from shifting and to provide earthquake resistance. Hence the materials typically found of war – sandbags and barbed wire – are used for peaceful ends, integrating traditional earth architecture with contemporary global safety requirements in an organically aesthetic fashion.

Starting in 1982, Nader Khalili developed and tested the Superadobe prototype in California. In 1991 he founded the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (Cal-Earth), a non-profit research and educational organization that covers everything from construction on the moon and on Mars to housing design and development for the world’s homeless for the United Nations.

Khalili SuperAdobe ContructionCal-Earth has focused on researching, developing and teaching the technologies of Superadobe. The prototypes have not only received California building permits but have also met the requirements of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for emergency housing. Both the UNHCR and the United Nations Development Programme have chosen to apply the system, which they used in 1995 to provide temporary shelters for a flood of refugees coming into Iran from Iraq.

After extensive research into vernacular earth building methods in Iran, followed by detailed prototyping, Khalili developed the sandbag or ‘superadobe’ system, which involves filling sandbags with indigenous (to a given area) earth and laying them in courses in a circular plan. The circular courses are corbelled near the top to form a dome. Barbed wire is laid between courses (creates a ‘velcro’ effect) to prevent the sandbags from shifting and to provide earthquake resistance. Hence the materials typically found of war – sandbags and barbed wire – are used for peaceful ends, integrating traditional earth architecture with contemporary global safety requirements in an organically aesthetic fashion.

SuperAdobe Eco Village

Because the structures use local resources – on-site earth and human hands – they are entirely sustainable. Men and women, old and young, can build since the maximum weight lifted is an earth-filled can to pour into the bags. Barbed wire and sandbags are supplied locally, and the stabilizer is also usually locally sourced.

Sheefteh Khalili, Cal-Earth

Sheefteh Khalili carries on her father’s work at Cal-Earth Institute

The system employs the timeless forms of arches, domes and vaults to create single and double-curvature shell structures that are both strong and aesthetically pleasing. While these load-bearing or compression forms refer to the ancient mudbrick architecture of the Middle East, the use of (hidden) barbed wire as a tensile element alludes to the portable tensile structures of nomadic cultures. The result is an extremely safe structure. The addition of barbed wire to the compression structures creates earthquake resistance; the aerodynamic form resists hurricanes; the use of sandbags aids flood resistance; and the earth itself provides insulation and fireproofing.

Because the structures use local resources – on-site earth and human hands – they are entirely sustainable. Men and women, old and young, can build since the maximum weight lifted is an earth-filled can to pour into the bags. Barbed wire and sandbags are supplied locally, and the stabilizer is also usually locally sourced.

The Khalili technique demands few skills, and is easy to learn. In addition, building with the bags goes extremely quickly, much faster than any other earth-building technique. They are adaptable to numerous site conditions and can be used with just about any type of earth-fill material that may be locally found and available. When built properly, earthbags are extremely strong, and as the bags themselves are lightweight and easily transported, they are useful for remote locations or emergency shelter. Thus, it is a flexible means of construction usable in a wide range of situations to create a variety of forms and structures.

The California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture is a 501 (C)3 non-profit/charitable foundation at the cutting edge of Earth and Ceramic Architecture technologies today. Founded in 1986 by its director, Nader Khalili (1936-2008), its scope spans technical innovations published by NASA for lunar and Martian construction, to housing design and development for the world’s homeless for the United Nations.

Cal-Earth Eco Dome HomeContinuing in his tradition, Khalili’s associates and apprentices are dedicated to research and education of the public in environmentally oriented arts and architecture. Its philosophy is based on the equilibrium of the natural elements of earth, water, air, fire, and their Unity at the service of the arts and humanity.

Cal-Earth’s mission is guided by three principles: (1) shelter is a basic human right, (2) every human being should be able to build a house for him or herself, and (3) the best way to provide shelter for the exponentially increasing human population is by building with earth.

Khalili’s Message and Vision (source: Cal-Earth Institute)

  • The greatest costs of rebuilding after the disasters goes to the infrastructure and human shelter.
  • The need is ever more urgent to build self-help, emergency shelters which can become sustainable, permanent structures and are more resistant to more disasters.
  • The accelerating rate of disasters in the world and the historical increase in the loss of human life and property, must create a sense of urgency for the U.N. and other agencies to pay serious attention to alternative ways of building.
  • There is a Sustainable Solution to Human Shelter, based on Timeless Materials (earth, water, air and fire) and Timeless Principles (arches, vaults and domes). Every man and woman should be able to build a shelter for his or her family with these universal elements, almost anywhere on the earth and other planets. These principles, interpreted into the simplest form of building technology have created emergency shelter which can become permanent houses, and which have passed strict tests and building codes. The only missing link is to educate humans how to use these timeless techniques, developed at Cal-Earth Institute, to fit their own culture and environment.
See also –
Nader Khalili Obit LA Times

——————————————–

lynnea2 The BoardLynnea Bylund is managing director of Gandhi Legacy Tours, Director of Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, founder of Catalyst House and has nearly three decades of experience in administration, marketing and business development. She was a nationally recognized spokeswoman for the emerging alternative video and information delivery industries. She has a degree in holistic health-nutrition from the legendary and controversial health educator and activist Dr. Kurt Donsbach, she is the founder of two not-for-profit small business-based wireless trade associations and has lobbied on Capitol Hill and at the FCC where she has spoken out strongly against the cable TV monopoly, illegal spectrum warehousing and ill-conceived congressional schemes to auction our nation’s precious airwaves to the highest bidder.

Ms. Bylund is a founder and former CEO of a Washington DC telecommunications consulting and management company with holdings in several operating and developmental wireless communications systems and companies. In 1995 Lynnea became the first female in the world to be awarded a Broadband PCS operating permit – she was one of only 17 winners, along with Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon in the biggest cash auction in world history, raising a whopping $8 billion. Lynnea also spear-headed the successful effort to launch the first cable TV network in the South Pacific islands.
> Follow Lynnea on:  +LynneaBylund – Twitter – LinkedIn – FaceBook – Pinterest & YouTube

Incoming search terms:

Catalyst House
Shares