SuperAdobe Spotlight: Building in the Philippines

After participating in a long-term apprenticeship at CalEarth, Beau Baconguis learned that SuperAdobe could be a sustainable solution to the shelter challenge faced in the Philippines. Learn about Beau's SuperAdobe buildings that have withstood hurricanes and how she is helping her community.

1. Tell us about your apprenticeship at CalEarth. Why did you decide to attend and what were your most important take-aways? When I first went to CalEarth in 2014, I was only interested in the permaculture course. I knew nothing about SuperAdobe or of CalEarth's work; I was simply aiming to complete my permaculture design course at a time that I thought fit the schedule I had planned. It so happened that the permaculture course was offered back-to-back with a SuperAdobe course. However, when I did the SuperAdobe workshop, I was so inspired by the solution it offered for the growing shelter problems my country had been experiencing.

I come from the Philippines and have seen how extreme weather events brought about by climate change have exacerbated the shelter problems in vulnerable communities. And, as a long-time environmental activist exposing problems, pushing for changes in policies, behaviors and attitudes, and [coming from a place] where real solutions are few and far between, SuperAdobe and permaculture were lightbulb moments for me. Earthen shelters have a great potential for rebuilding back better as a community and more sustainably.

The following year, I returned as a long-term apprentice for the vault program on a work exchange arrangement. Within that short period, I sharpened my building skills which were zero before I visited CalEarth. I left with much more hope and confidence that I would be able to teach communities how to build with their own hands and with resources they can find in their own localities.

2. The climate in the Philippines is very different to that in California where you learned to build. Why did you seek out the SuperAdobe building technique? The solution I was seeking was for many different environmental problems. I saw SuperAdobe as a sustainable solution to the shelter challenge and it was my entrypoint into this amazing world of building with earth. I thought that domes and arched structures would perform better in an earthquake zone and a country often visited by typhoons and strong winds. However, I continue to make adjustments to design and materials as my knowledge and experience building in the tropics grow. My latest designs include a roof to help protect the structures from huge volumes of rain. I am hoping to be able to work with local architects and engineers to further refine the designs so that they become more suited to the climatic conditions of the Philippines.

3. Have the SuperAdobe structures you built in the Philippines withstood hurricanes? The structures I built are new, the oldest being a dome that is close to 3-years-old. So far, they have withstood the regular typhoons and earthquakes. The first two domes were painted by the owners with elastomeric paint which is a common practice in the Philippines as a water-proofing material for roofs and walls exposed to heavy rain. However, monitoring will have to be done for these structures through the years. Also, they have not yet been exposed to super-typhoons.

4. Are there any special steps you've had to take with your buildings to ensure they are flood-resistant? In two areas, the structures were built on porous ground where water quickly drains and we used gravel bags for the foundation. In the others, I re-used tarpaulin from political advertisements or billboards to wrap the foundation bags. Drain canals were also dug to direct water away from the structures.

5. What is the traditional building style in the Philippines? Have you been able to combine those practices with the SuperAdobe method when building your structures? The traditional building method uses bamboo and palm or grass leaves as building material. My latest designs are experiments in SuperAdobe cylinders with coconut lumber and bamboo trusses and palm or grass leaves for a roof. A fishnet is then laid over and attached to the thatch to extend the life of the thatch and protect it from strong winds.

6. What is the purpose of your SuperAdobe buildings? Residential or commercial? I have built 4 permanent structures so far. The first is a 10ft diameter dome built together with CalEarth instructor, Brandon Evans. It serves as a sleeping space being offered in an Airbnb called Kapusod. The second is an 11ft diameter dome with a 6ft diameter apse, a private sleeper retreat with a bathroom for friends of the owner who are cancer survivors. This was named after a friend of the owner who later died of cancer but who was able to grace the "housewarming" of the structure. The third build was a complex of 6 cylinders with thatched roofs that serve as sleeping quarters for the Climate Resiliency Field School of the Municipality of Gerona in Tarlac Province and the Rice Watch and Action Network. It is a training center for farmers learning about climate-resilient farming and organic agriculture. The last one is my own personal space for meditation and working in my parents' garden. It is an 8ft diameter cylinder with a thatched roof.

7. There is a breathtaking mural inside one of your buildings. How was that created? I can't take credit for the mural in the first dome Brandon Evans and I built. It was an idea of the owners and friends of theirs who were soil artists. They used different soil types and colors to paint on the interior wall of the dome.

8. Do you have future projects lined up? What are you excited to build next using the SuperAdobe method? There's plenty of interest in SuperAdobe, however, not a lot are ready to make the commitment. There are no projects in the pipeline yet despite the many initial conversations about it. A long-term project that is still in the conceptualization stage is setting up my own learning center for SuperAdobe and permaculture.

9. You have been teaching, building and advocating all around the Philippines about the use of SuperAdobe. Talk about a specific person you connected with that you feel was helped. While all the build projects I've had were meaningful, each one with a special touching story, the most significant would be the SuperAdobe complex of sleeper cylinders in Gerona, Tarlac. I was contacted by the Rice Watch and Action Network (not just one person in particular), an organization I have worked with while campaigning for Greenpeace, when they saw my posts on social media. This was most meaningful to me because the project would benefit small farmers, a sector in Philippine society that are often the poorest and most neglected. There is a personal attachment as well for me because their issues, Ecological Agriculture, GMOs and chemical farming are issues I've campaigned on for decades. Besides, it also meant that the workforce for this particular project would be the local community. It was also an unusual work environment for the all-male build crew to have a tiny woman in her fifties (me) leading the build. Lastly, the complex is located in the middle of rice fields and vegetable farms and it looks like it belonged there.

10. If you could describe your SuperAdobe buildings in one word, what would it be? Experimental

SuperAdobe Spotlight: New Ruins

New Ruins is a home and Airbnb nestled in the hills of Oaxaca overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This bungalow uses 100% solar energy and offers privacy, stunning views and is just an hour drive from one of the top ten surf breaks in the world, Puerto Escondido.

Learn more about this SuperAdobe gem from owner, Nicholaus Ames!

1. What is your SuperAdobe dome used for?

We use our SuperAdobe houses for living and renting on Airbnb. Southern Mexico is hot and having half a meter of compacted earth really makes for one of the best materials for a comfortable home. We also use SuperAdobe to make terraces for patios and gardens. We make retaining walls to be backfilled and clay tiled, playing with the inclined terrain and large rocks to make interesting spaces.

2. Why did you build using the SuperAdobe method?
Cost. Steel for traditional concrete work is expensive. Building with the SuperAdobe method allowed us to keep our cost down and the labor in this area is not expensive. We also had access to clay. The neighboring town is a brick-making community sitting on a large bank of clay. In addition, thermal properties make for comfortable living.

3. How much did it cost to build New Ruins? What steps did you take (if any) to keep the cost down, but still achieve the building you wanted?
The entire project has been expensive, which encompasses more than just SuperAdobe. The two SuperAdobe houses cost around $5,000+ USD each. Like any project, the devil is in the details, so i am not including finishing work in that estimate.

To keep costs down, we used car tire rims as port windows and earthbags from cattle ranchers and tortilla makers. For the second dome, we reused the door and window forms, when possible. We also had clay and earth premixed with a machine and then brought in truck loads. We used 1 truck of clay placed with 3 of regular earth, then mixed and 4 truck loads were delivered.

4. How long did it take you to build New Ruins?
Our first dome took us 3 months before we could live in it. For the second, we had better resources and understanding of the process and it only took 1.5 months.

5. The interior and exterior design of New Ruins is stunning. What is your background? What was your inspiration when building?
First off, thanks! None of us had much experience when we started the domes. "Fake it, 'til you make it." I'm a web programmer who wanted a change and had never built anything in my life. I've got smart friends who have helped along the way and gave advice or a hand. The interiors were slowly pieced together from purchased items in Oaxaca City, which has an incredible arts community with really great shopping. So, it all came together naturally, picking out things we liked personally. Using an all-white esthetic, we incorporated the colors into the accent items like art and textiles. And of course lots of locally-sourced wood. Earth and wood are very calming.

6. If you could describe New Ruins in one word, what would it be?

FREE Online Classes and Books to those Impacted by Wildfires

"Be a lamp, a lifeboat, a ladder." -Rumi

"Be a lamp, a lifeboat, a ladder." -Rumi

CalEarth is committed to helping residents affected by the California wildfires by providing online classes and books free of charge. Since 1991, our dedication to research and development of low-cost, eco-friendly technology resists natural disasters and offers hope to those in need.

If you or a loved one has been affected by the wildfires and are looking into alternative ways to rebuild, we are here to help.

Learn how to build a home, using just a few simple materials, including the earth beneath your feet. Our step-by-step videos will provide you with a possible alternative to re-build and guide you through the process of prepping your site and building a safe, sustainable dome.

Our thoughts go out to all those who have been impacted by the fires. If you would like to inquire about receiving FREE online classes and books, please send us an email letting us know about your personal circumstance and why you are interested in the classes/books. We look forward to working with you.

Photo credit: David Robert White, The Ojai Foundation

Photo credit: David Robert White, The Ojai Foundation

This SuperAdobe structure at The Ojai Foundation survived the Thomas Fires that swept across Southern California in 2017. Our founder Nader Khalili worked with The Ojai Foundation in the 1980's and we are still closely aligned with their work in sustainability and human empowerment.

We would like to host a free workshop in Northern California for those impacted and are looking for someone able to host and potentially provide some of the tools/materials. If you know of a location and would be willing to help make this happen, please contact us.

Art Beyond the Canvas - November 2-14, 2018

Don't miss CalEarth at "Art Beyond the Canvas" from November 2-14, 2018 at The Container Yard in downtown LA!

The event features the work of CalEarth, Eco Domes Africa and Intsikelelo and explores how the SuperAdobe method was used to build the Langbos Children's Shelter. This shelter (designed by CalEarth alumni Quintin Christian and his team) houses orphans and vulnerable children in one of the poorest rural communities in South Africa. The buildings utilize renewable energy systems including solar power, rainwater harvesting and waste water recycling.

Photographic works, video projections and an interactive SuperAdobe installation and virtual reality experience will educate attendees about SuperAdobe and take viewers through an immersive journey to the SuperAdobe construction site of the Langbos Children’s Shelter.

On Friday, November 2, join the Khalili family and CalEarth staff and alumni for the opening night reception starting at 8:00 p.m. This exhibit puts into action Nader Khalili's philosophy of empowering vulnerable communities through sustainable design and innovation.


SuperAdobe in Za'atari Refugee Camp funded by Oxfam

Check out this amazing video from Oxfam in the Middle East-- a SuperAdobe project built by refugees in the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Hasan, one of the volunteers that helped Oxfam build the SuperAdobe building says, “We were always worried about going back to Syria, now I can build a house until I’m able to find a place to live in.” Learn more about Oxfam’s humanitarian response in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria:

SuperAdobe in Puerto Rico

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CalEarth alum Owen Ingley took a workshop in 2009 and has been working to promote SuperAdobe in Puerto Rico for the last 8 years. His nonprofit, Plentitud PR, has completed the construction of 3 structures in Puerto Rico, and all of them successfully survived the devastating impact of Hurricane María one year ago. In February 2018 Plenitud PR was granted funding from the Hispanic Federation to teach workshops on Superadobe emergency shelters and build a demonstration house. The work was recently featured on the front page newspaper article in the local newspaper, and they are receiving a lot of interest from local government officials. Keep up the great work Owen!

Weather Warriors Documentary

Check out this amazing new documentary about CalEarth. Thank you Tastemade and film director Tracy Wares and the whole crew for pulling this together. We are honored you wanted to tell our story—you did an exceptional job capturing both the technical... and the magical sides of the institute. 

If you believe in this work, we need your support. Visit our website today and donate. 

SuperAdobe Project in Persian Gulf: Presence in Hormuz (Iran)

We found out about this amazing project through instagram. They were nominated for Best Project of the Year by ArchDaily Magazine in 2017. This is a cafe and tourist information center on Hormuz Island in the Persian Gulf of Iran. 

Client: Ehsan Rasulof
Architects: Zav Architects
Construction: Amir Tehrani
Location: Hormuz Island, Persian Gulf
Instagram: @rongcenter

JORDAN TIMES-Classrooms built by refugees for refugees win world architecture award

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“In their situation, refugees need simple, fast, low cost and sustainable solutions, which is what we are providing with these classrooms,” di Marco told The Jordan Times, referring to the SuperAdobe technique used in the project.

SuperAdobe is a form of earth bag architecture developed by architect and CalEarth founder Nader Khalili. Using long sandbags, barbed wire, on-site earth and a few simple tools, the revolutionary building system has been published by NASA and endorsed by the United Nations, according to online sources.

Link to Arch Daily 2018 Building of the Year Awards

CalEarth in VOGUE!

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“Forced displacement from war or persecution is one of humanity’s great challenges in the 21st century,” says Kathryn Mahoney, Senior Communications Officer for the UN’s refugee agency. “It’s not about to go away any time soon and those who are affected desperately need our help..."READ MORE

Going back to the basics- Earth Architecture in Kenya


Daily Nation, February 8, 2018 (Kenya)

“The US and South America have re-energised the use of earth as an architectural building component through earthbag housing technology. Architect Nader Khalili of the California Institute of Earth Architecture (CalEarth Institute) has dedicated a lot of resources to re-introducing earthbag houses to the US and the rest of the world..." 

Playground in Zanzibar

CalEarth Alumni Quintin Christian is hard at work with another amazing project. This time it is a playground in Fumba Town Eco City in Zanzibar, Tanzania. 

Christian and his team trained people from the local community in Zanzibar, including a large group of women. 

The playground consists of a barazza for parents to relax while they watch their children (it will eventually be covered with shading), in front of that is a fish pond and the central area is a sandpit (they are planting a large tree there for shade).  It also has a kiosk for drinks and snacks and the domes are play areas that shelter children from the harsh sun and have loads of holes they can climb in for fun.

Christian worked together with @ecodomesafrica @frankogreen and @permaculture_zanzibar on this project and had the president of Tanzania visit the project and were very impressed with the technology. 

Domes in Madagascar!

Thanks to the magic of the internet and social media we recently discovered this amazing Eco Dome in Madagascar. We posted it on instagram and the builder found us and sent us more photos and details about the project. Here are some highlights: 

2012: French architect Rebecca Pelayo hears about the superadobe building technology

2013: Pelayo trains with one of Nader Khalili's former students, Paulina Wojciechowska, in the UK and then created the Genius Ecodomus Association 

2014: Pelayo returns to her motherland of Madagascar and organizes a workshop with 10 volunteers, building the domes in just 30 days. The two domes are 16.5 feet and 14 feet in diameter, for a total area of 375 sq. ft.

2015-2017: 2 years of strong rainy seasons, earthquakes, ant attacks, consecutive tests of coating based on banana juice, zebu dung ... before finding the ideal final plastering, a mixture of hydraulic lime and iron oxide.

2017: Today Pelayo is working on additional projects in Mauritania and Madagascar. We will provide updates when they are available. According to Pelayo, "the ecodome welcomes yogi groups, artists, travelers from all horizon, and sometimes bees."

Superadobe Online Workshop Series

Hello CalEarth friends! We have so much exciting news to share.

After many months of work we are thrilled to announce our Superadobe Online Workshop Series. For those looking for hands-on demonstrations and lectures, this 12-part video series includes nearly 7 hours of classes. This package includes the Intro to Superadobe Course, the Plasters & Finishes Course (also sold individually) along with 7 additional lessons and 3 plasters demonstration videos not available for individual purchase. Click to read more and download or stream the class instantly from your computer or mobile device. 

Cal-Earth at the MoMA in New York

Last month I had a surreal experience. I was invited to the opening night of a new exhibit at the MoMA in NYC entitled "Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter" which featured powerful images of refugees and refugee camps. To see my fathers work up there on the wall of solutions for shelter was truly an honor. These past 8 years running Cal-Earth Institute with my brother Dastan Khalili and our team has been challenging in so many ways, but this moment was a reminder that our father's vision to create solutions for shelter is immensely important and I am honored to carry that vision forward. 

-Sheefteh Khalili