During her time at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin West, Maya Ward-Karet took part in a design/build program to complete a desert shelter. Her resulting Helixa Shelter was built for just $812 and it features a robust earthbag construction that curves to protect the inhabitat while still allowing for interaction with the Sonoran desert.
Each year a number of students at Taliesin take part in the design/build shelter program in order to get a hands-on learning experience in building what they design. Many students as of late are building more sustainable projects that carefully consider their materials and show a deep respect for the surrounding desert environment. Ward-Karet wanted to gain some real world experience in the earthbag construction method while building in a manner that was in keeping with the surroundings. With a budget of $1,000, she designed and built the Helixa Shelter using earthbags, adobe, sunbrella fabric, and scraps from the architecture school.
The form of the earthen shelter is like a seashell, which opens up to the light of dawn and provides shade from the hot desert sun with a half-dome awning. The earthbags and adobe walls provide thermal mass to soak up the heat and release it back at night as the desert cools down. A protected sleeping area sits at the center of the shelter’s spiral, and seating at the opening of the shelter provides space to socialize.
Helixa was designed by Ward-Karet and constructed by herself along with the help of other students, friends and family. All of the materials were walked in or moved by a wheelbarrow in order to minimize impact on the desert, and all construction took place within 2 feet of the shelter’s final footprint. The earthbags were made using a collapsed rammed earth wall from a former student shelter, and the chimney is reinforced with a small (~8%) amount of concrete to ensure stability.
At the end of the student project, Ward-Karet designed and built the structure for $812, largely through the use of reclaimed materials and a donation of the awning from Phoenix Tent and Awning. The resulting shelter provides a unique space for contemplation or socializing, and the outdoor fireplace provides a perfect spot for she and her fellow students to reminisce about their experiences.
Images ©Maya Ward-Karet