Just four years before the 1979 Islamic revolution, Nader Khalili abandoned his career building fancy high rises and other conventional structures and set off into the desert of Iran on a motorbike to learn more about traditional earth construction. He was convinced, according to Cal-Earth, that the only way the world’s poor could afford a home was to build with earth and fire.
“After five years studying the traditional desert earth architecture, the first ceramic houses were fired in the villages, fusing the work of the traditional master masons with the ancient art of the potters, which is documented in his book Racing Alone. During these five years of research and “in-search”, Khalili got to know five eternal personalities which become the inspiration in his work and life — earth, water, air, fire, and Rumi whose mystic poetry is infused with the unity of these elements.”
Khalili went on to found Cal-Earth, which now teaches his simple Superadobe method to people all over the world. This is how it works, in short, though keep in mind the nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization has patented various designs. For people who want to build their own shelter, it’s best to start with a dome with an 8-10 foot interior diameter. Earth is packed into either short or long sandbags that are then stacked in layers or coiled into a dome structure. Barbed wire is used to provide tension, and then the whole thing is patted down with a stabilizer such as cement, lime, or asphalt emulsion. The resulting structure boasts excellent thermal mass that keeps occupants warm in winter and cool in summer. An opening in the roof provides some daylighting, though other cutouts throughout the shelter can provide more.
The gallery of images shows various structures designed by Cal-Earth, including the beautiful Earth One Vaulted House Design, the Eco Dome Moon Cocoon, and the Emergency Shelter village. Here’s a pdf version of the group’s earth shelter training guide, and courses are available as well for those who want to take self-sufficiency and sustainability to the next level. Next week I’ll be attending a combined Superadobe and permaculture course at Cal-Earth and can’t wait to share the experience with our readers. For more information, check out the Cal-Earth website. It’s full of interesting gems. Meanwhile, I will leave you with this message from Nader Khalili.
“There is a Sustainable Solution to Human Shelter, based on Timeless Materials (earth, water, air and fire) and Timeless Principles (arches, vaults and domes). Every man and woman should be able to build a shelter for his or her family with these universal elements, almost anywhere on the earth and other planets. These principles, interpreted into the simplest form of building technology have created emergency shelter which can become permanent houses, and which have passed strict tests and building codes. Since 1975 we have been dedicated to researching and developing this low-cost, self-help, eco-friendly technology which can resist disasters, and to offer it to humanity. The only missing link is to educate humans how to use these timeless techniques, developed at Cal-Earth Institute, to fit their own culture and environment.”
All images courtesy Cal-Earth