by , 06/11/07

CalEarth, NASA, Sustainable Building, Affordable Housing

We’ve seen some great examples of emergency and disaster-resistant architecture before, from Architecture For Humanity’s Biloxi Model Homes to monolithic domes, and considering the likelihood that we will be continually faced with more and more natural disasters in our lives, we think it is hugely important to redirect some architectural attention towards disaster-resistant housing design. The California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (i.e. CalEarth) is an interesting company in this regard. Their monolithic domes are great for disaster resistance, and are now proving to be applicable in even more far-reaching contexts (we’re talking outer space here). Not only are their dome-like clay houses earthquake resistant and eco-friendly – but, thanks to some attention from NASA, there’s a possibility that they may have us calling the moon “home” sometime in the future.

CalEarth, NASA, Sustainable Building, Affordable Housing

Founded in 1986 by internationally known architect Nader Khalili, CalEarth’s research and educational programs focus on social innovation in architecture, creating lunar-based construction for NASA, as well as designing and developing housing solutions for homeless throughout the world with support from the United Nations. The ceramic CalEarth shelters shown above are made from four natural elements (earth, water, air, and fire) using just three simple steps explained by Khaili: “We dig up the ground. The earth is placed into sacks. We pile them up and fix them in place.” In other words, once the blocks of sacked earth are in place, the interior of each space is kiln-fired creating a thick and durable crust of terra-cotta.

Khalili bases the success of his domes on significant structures found throughout architectural history, including the basic form of the arch and materials used in ancient cultures built from the ground-up (literally). The simplest designs of CalEarth’s kiln-fired homes come in “dirt cheap” around $3200 for the design. If you are fancying something a little more elaborate, all you need is land in a dry arid climate, a week of time, and roughly $90,000. The earthquake-resistant walls provide passive heating much like a trombe wall, and natural air-conditioning through a series of strategically placed windows and doors.

Why are these “super-adobe” homes so feasible for a moon structure? Consider the amount of materials it takes to build one home, then ask yourself how we can get the same materials to the moon. The feasibility of one of CalEarth’s structures seems that much more practical, and has been acknowledged by NASA scientists. Which only leaves us with one question, “When can we move in?”

+ CalEarth

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  1. Lunarez November 3, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Tried to apply the khalili design for the first generation lunar habitation modules, but unfortunately the cost of shipping the excavation equipment to the lunar platform was too cost prohibitive. Not feasible for a lunar platform, but definitely an option for hot weather environments in Southern California, New Mexico and Arizona, as well as other locations worldwide. The cost of construction for a 3 bdrm, 2bath, 2 car garage house in California (Approx 2200 sqft) runs at between $75000-90000, as compared to $350,000 – 400,000 for the same size house made out of wood, concrete and steel, and is far more environmentally viable.

  2. Jack July 9, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    I think the 90,000 is for the big house one. It’s really only a couple of dollars per square foot. There are some groups using this method to build villages (on this planet).

    Fire in the Hole: Fire in the Hole

    American Sudanese Partnerships

  3. silvia July 7, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    Huh? 90,000 dollars ???

  4. João Sousa June 16, 2007 at 9:57 pm

    This project it’s really what matters of sustainable architecture. Sustainability doesn’t mean we need to develop enormous cooling systems to our buildings nor developping solar pannel façades. Sustainability reflects as a way of thinking architecture in an ecological way.

    The most important factor of this project is that it uses only local resources and that’s the most important thing. With those bags you only need to have earth to fill them up and start building. This architect can start up with a constructing technique that is so simple like this and he creates living spaces, homes for those that doesn’t have, creating a sustainable architecture with a complete interaction with the local environment and landscape.

    This is of course suitable for the moon or for any place made with dust and sand.

  5. i ketut agus June 14, 2007 at 9:31 pm

    a reference for us who’s living in earthquake cracking line, thank you

  6. Gopal June 13, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    Aristotle…what?!! A sanctuary to celebrate the emptyness of the relatively quietness of our universe? Dude…come on man.

    Anyhoo, i worked with nader khalili in the desert and learnt so much, mainly to look at you environment and make sustainable decisions.
    His technique has been considered by nasa for years. His super adobe technique needs to be incorporated wuith other technologies and innovations in order to be safe and efficient.

  7. rek June 13, 2007 at 12:45 am

    Aristotle – I appreciate the sentiment, but there’s nothing on the moon that needs it as a sanctuary; it has no native flora or fauna, and is sort of missing an atmosphere and hydrosphere to boot.

    Rather than build clay homes on the moon, I think we should dome the whole thing and turn it into Endor, the forest moon from Star Wars.

  8. rick bradner June 12, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    not eactly an original idea.

    I don’t see much difference between the basic idea here and the “trulli” of southern italy which has been around for at least a thousand years. They were also designed to be dis-assembled as well.

  9. Willofgod June 12, 2007 at 9:15 am

    Aristotle, a ‘permanent sanctuary’ for what?

  10. mery June 12, 2007 at 3:25 am

    c’est genial

  11. Christoper P. June 12, 2007 at 2:51 am

    Very Pattern-language, Alexanderesque….
    Question: how “treeless” or eco-friendly is kiln-firing the interior finishes of these structures? And how is the exterior finish applied, such that it doesn’t shell off in an earthquake, like a snow slide of heavy crust, at the start of an avalanche? (Possibly, the chinked “ribs” between bag layers, particularly if clay/natural-fiber [straw] matrixed “cob” material.)

  12. Aristotle June 11, 2007 at 8:44 pm

    A question: kiln-fired? How about solar parabolic mirrors to “fire” it? How about microwave magnetrons?

    Could Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis’ Contour Crafting ( equipment be used in conjunction with solar parabolic mirrors or microwave magnetrons to make ceramic earth shelters robotically?

  13. Aristotle June 11, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    I guess this is a little trollish, but some will say that we have no right to start transforming the environment of the moon in order to house a non-native species (man). We should leave the moon as a permanent sanctuary, pristine and untouched by human development.

  14. Christian June 11, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    Khalili’s first designs were tested in poor rural communities in Iran. He wrote two wonderful books about his fired earth designs, “Ceramic Houses and Earth Architecture” and “Racing Alone.” I have also seen some of his earthbag designs in use at a permaculture commune in Hawaii. This is wonderful stuff, and simple.

  15. Jac June 4, 2007 at 3:05 am

    That is so cool! Looks like straight out of Star Wars!

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