BuildingCourses/Workshops

Earth Bag Building Workshop in Kyoto, Japan (July 2014)

Everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the power of the world always works in circles, and everything tries to be round….. Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop. — Black Elk, Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Holy Man

The strongest structures in nature are arches, domes, vaults, apses…. By trading corners for curves we fortify the structural integrity of our architecture, and use the least materials while providing the maximum amount of space.

Everything is connected. The ancient knowledge of many great peoples, physics, you, me, them, us… the earth, the air, the sun… we are all interdependent and can not live alone. That is a simple fact.

I was born in France, where people are used to having material wealth, but after travelling in Asia and Africa over the last 15 years, sharing the life of my brothers in those places, I saw every day that to have a house is a privilege, and now even in our western societies it is increasingly difficult to become a home-owner, unless you agree to take a loan and spend the rest of your life paying for it, which is a great loss of your freedom.

What kind of solutions can we offer people all over the world, so they can have a home, while respecting the earth and themselves?

Earth bag building is one of them. Sand bags and barbed wire — the super-adobe technique. It was developed by Nader Khalili, an Iranian architect and humanitarian who founded Cal-Earth — The California Institute of Art and Architecture. You can imagine it as bags filled with earth that’s found on-site, and arranged in layers or long coils, with strands of barbed wire between them to act as reinforcement.

It’s a simple way of building, just using the earth beneath our feet….

Advantages:

  • The earth bag system has proven to withstand the ravages of fire, flooding, hurricanes, termites, and two earthquakes measuring over 6 and 7 on the Richter scale.
  • In 1991 at Cal-Earth, under static load testing conditions simulating seismic, wind and snow loads, the tests exceeded Californian building code standards by 200%.
  • The thermal performance: earth bag walls function as an absorbent mass. It’s able to store warmth and reradiate it back. It gives a 12 hour delay in energy transfer from exterior to interior, which means that at the hottest time of the day the inside is at its coolest, while at the coolest time of the day the interior is at its warmest. In winter it keeps the heat inside longer.
  • Earth bag building has more structural integrity than adobe (a sun-dried, unburned brick of clay and straw), more plasticity than rammed earth, more speed in construction than cob (a mixture of clay and straw).
  • Although earth bag is new compared to these ancient building methods, it offers superior economy and durability. Earth bag construction offers broad possibilities for ultra low-cost and low-impact housing, especially in regions where timber, grasses, cement and fuel are scarce.

I decided to go to Cal-Earth to learn the super adobe technique, after which I began my quest — now working wherever I can to spread this knowledge. By creating TsaTsa House, in Japan, we hope to inspire more people and offer solutions for affordable and ecological housing and to empower them with knowledge of earth bag techniques. With this goal in mind we are organising a workshop in Kyoto, Japan (July 1 — 10, 2014). We hope to see you there!

And soon we hope to work and teach in India, Indonesia and wherever other opportunities arise.

9 Comments

    1. Hi Susan
      the bag holds up the sunlight for~ 500 uv hours,
      we have to do a plaster on it,
      it can be natural or mix with lime or cement…
      and if you plaster it correctly the bags will last an indefinite time…
      please have a look our website for more details,
      thank you

  1. Thank you for your fascinating article.
    I have seen quite a few of these online that were finished with chicken wire then plastered with various mixes. Can you tell me, what happens when the bags eventually break down? Is the earth mixed with clay or cement to solidify over time or do we just end up with soil inside plastered walls?
    Thanks. Kind regards Virginia

    1. Hi Virginia,
      well the bags won t break down,
      we have to plaster it and they will last an indefinite time…which means if you do a good job it will stay intact…
      the earth is compact so much inside the bags that this is so solid…
      please have a look our website
      thank you very much

      and if you plaster it correctly the bags will last an indefinite time…
      please have a look our website for more details,
      thank you

  2. go green!! love it very much..
    would you teach your knowledge to INDONESIAN people so they can build their earth bag house by them self ? can wait your trip to INDONESIA.
    Thank You

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