Gallery: Helical Earthbag Shelter Built by Taliesin Student

A sleeping area nestled in the very center is protected from both the heat of the sun as well as the wind, and it takes in heat from the chimney at night.

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.

+ Maya Ward-Karet

+ Taliesin

Images ©Maya Ward-Karet


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  1. edgarbaikaire August 15, 2014 at 4:46 am

    This is really nice and creative. I like the fact that functionality has been attached towards the adobe walls thereby giving the design proposal a more concise contextual approach

  2. Dinah Miller October 1, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    Where do you piss?

  3. gatoatigrado November 17, 2010 at 7:48 pm


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