Super Adobe – An Accessible Doorway to Earthen Building
In the courses I run I observe how much fun people have when building with earth. It is intuitive, kind, forgiving and fun. It literally connects us to the earth. One earthen building technique that’s a creative and low cost way of getting started in the natural building world is super adobe.
The concept is old. Bags would be filled to create a barrier that is solid, bulletproof in fact! Earth bags or sand bags are also used as a barrier during times of flooding. Both of these solutions evolved because when created with a team the technique is relatively quick and strong.
Architect Nader Khalili spent a couple of decades designing skyscrapers, then after some time in the Iranian desert he developed the concept of super adobe dome clusters in 1984. The building method is now widely used and is endorsed by the United Nations.
Circles are the most efficient way of enclosing a space, this is why you don’t see straight lines in nature. Domes are awesome and special structures. The walls become the roof, there are no corners, so no weak points. The pressure of the building is equally distributed.
The technique involves compacting polypropylene bags filled with earth until they are totally solid. These bags are low cost and available almost everywhere. For small projects you don’t necessarily need the long rolls, you can use individual bags. Barbed wire is placed in-between the bags, which serves as reinforcement and mortar. The barbed wire adds tensile (horizontal) strength.
Once the work with the bags is done, the structure is covered with chicken wire and skimmed with a coat of cement stabilized earth plaster. There are different options for the final coat, it can be white cement and dye, mosaic, or another coat of cement stabilised earthen plaster. This final durable layer provides protection from the elements so the structure requires little maintenance. The finished result is beautiful and unique.
As a builder, teacher and facilitator I like super adobe construction because it is sustainable, creative, artistic and durable. It feels realistic and doable for people to get started. It has many applications, from houses, play areas, or shelters for small animals. It is great to start with small projects to gain experience and confidence, and they can often be created in back gardens, schools and public areas.
The only draw back is its time consuming and hard work. Nader Khalili knew this and developed the concept so all ages can contribute, from children to grand parents. With friends, community, a good plan and great music the problem is the solution – many hands make light work! It is amazing what can be achieved and there is nothing like the satisfaction that comes through creating with your hands in collaboration and cooperation!
Matt Prosser is an international Permaculture designer, teacher, sustainable builder and co-founder of www.holisticprogressiondesigns.com
Matt will be teaching two certified courses at the Alisler Yurdu project in Turkey. Both of these courses have been designed so participants leave inspired and empowered with practical know how that can be applied anywhere.
Get Your Hands Dirty: Permaculture In Practice Weekend April 7 – 9: http://www.holisticprogressiondesigns.com/turkey-april-2017.html
Get Your Hands Dirty: Sustainable Building & Permaculture workshop June 23 – 27: http://www.holisticprogressiondesigns.com/turkey-june-2017.html
Alişler Yurdu is is a exciting example of Permaculture and sustainable living in the Mediterranean. Set in a stunning location the project strives to inspire and empower harmonious, healthy and creative lives.