Construction Update: First Stage of Improvements


It’s been a busy two weeks at CalEarth! Cooley Construction arrived on 4/1 to begin the first stage of civil improvements- a fire access road that goes throughout our 7 acre property as well as ADA parking spaces in various locations. It was definitely tough to watch the big machines clear away bushes and a few small temporary structures to make the path, but now that it’s nearly complete, the site is starting to look more and more like an educational research campus!

Once this stage is complete, the inspector will come and sign off and then we can hopefully re-open the campus in the coming weeks! Stay tuned for the exact date. We also got the final approval for the next stage— curb, gutter, sidewalk, and a parking lot on the east side of campus, and will begin fundraising for the final $39,000 needed for this project next week. Thanks to everyone for your support and encouragement these past few months; we couldn’t have done it without you.

-Sheefteh & Dastan Khalili and the CalEarth Team

SuperAdobe Spotlight: Building in Joshua Tree

After working on his SuperAdobe building for years, Mark passed final inspection and is excited to call his dome, home. Learn about his journey and how he turned his dream into a reality!

Tell us about your experience with CalEarth. What workshop did you attend? I attended a one week workshop in April of 2008 that covered most of what you needed to know about building an EcoDome.

What inspired you to build your own SuperAdobe structure? Attending the workshop and talking to the staff and other students and living in the structures on campus for a week convinced me that this is what I wanted to do.

Did you hire builders to help with the construction of your home or work with friends who volunteered their time? Ian (Site Director at CalEarth) agreed to be the foreman and assembled a team of 5 full-time builders that built the structure and applied some initial plaster. This took about 10 weeks to complete. After that initial phase, we would have friends and volunteers, people who were interested in gaining experience with the SuperAdobe process come out for a day or more and continue with the plastering and whatever else needed to be done.

What amenities are included in your domes? I have a fully functioning bathroom and kitchen, all the plumbing and electrical that are normally found in a house and for heat I installed a hydronic radiant floor heating system.

How long did your home take to build? It took 11 years to build because of two things, time and money.

Tell us about the inspection process. What were your most difficult hurdles and what steps did you take to pass inspection? The inspection process was pretty easy; the difficult part was showing the inspector that I was making progress every 6 months because of the time and money problem. The inspectors were very understanding of the situation and would work with me to keep the project moving. The biggest problem inspection-wise was after most of the windows had been installed, the inspector asked where the egress window was. We had to remove 2 casement windows, enlarge the opening and install larger windows to comply with the code.

What is the weather like where you live? Why did you choose to build using the SuperAdobe method? I live in the high desert near Joshua Tree National Park so we have real seasons, cold winters with lows in the 20s to 30s and summer highs that can reach 105 to 110. I chose SuperAdobe because it seemed like the building would stand up to the weather and it didn’t require a lot of expertise to build.

What is your favorite room of the house? Why? I don’t know that I have a favorite room, but I really enjoy looking at the walls and seeing the different surfaces and trowel marks left behind by the many people who had a hand in building it. The appearance also changes with the lighting which is really cool.

Would you like to build more SuperAdobe structures on your property in the future? I want to build a garage soon; hopefully we can use the SuperAdobe method.

If you could describe the SuperAdobe technique in one word, what would it be? Handmade.

Northern California SuperAdobe Workshop - April 15-19, 2019

Join us for a dome workshop in Northern California!

Date: April 15-19, 2019

Time: 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.Location: 7809 Buckboard Lane, Smartsville, CA 95977

Maximum number of students: 12

Tuition price: $200/ $100 for Campfire victims

About the Camp Fire:

The Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in all of California’s history. In total, 18,804 structures were completely burnt to the ground, leaving thousands displaced without homes. People are now starting to consider rebuilding the town of Paradise; though it is of great concern that a fire of this particular scale could easily repeat itself. Residents are hesitant to rebuild using the same flammable materials.

About Sonny Morrow

In order to provide education regarding fireproof building techniques, Cal Earth alumni, Sonny Morrow, will be instructing a five-day workshop which will cover the structural fundamentals of SuperAdobe. Students will walk away from this workshop with confidence in building fireproof structures.

About Circle G Farms

Circle G Farms, which specializes in permaculture design and practices, will host the workshop. It is approximately 60 miles south of Paradise and there will be plenty of space for camping on the property. Victims of the Camp Fire are encouraged to attend this workshop and will receive a reduced rate.

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Cancellation Policy:

If for some reason you are unable to attend the workshop you registered for, your tuition may also be applied to another course that same year if you notify Cal-Earth at least two weeks before the start of a course.

If you wish to withdraw completely and cannot reschedule, a $50 registration fee will be deducted and your remaining balance refunded if you notify Cal-Earth two weeks prior to the start of the workshop. Any cancellations within two weeks of the workshop will not be refunded, only transfered. 

If Cal-Earth cancels the workshop due to low enrollment your tuition will be fully refunded or transferred (5 or more registrants required to hold workshop)

SuperAdobe Spotlight: Building in Italy

After participating in an apprenticeship program at CalEarth, Davide was excited to take his new-found SuperAdobe knowledge back to Italy. Learn about Davide’s domes and also his affinity for using this building technology for garden beds, walls and more!

How did you become involved with the SuperAdobe building technique? During my MSc course in Architecture, Energy and Sustainability I was searching for a good topic for my thesis. I realized how the technologies and strategy involved in the “mainstream” sustainability, in the field of architecture, were not affordable for everybody, more over I realized how some materials could be considered sustainable from some points of view, but not from other points of view. For example, a good insulator can provide a benefit to the energy consumption of a house, but the same insulator might have a very high embodied energy/environmental impact and could create problems at the moment of disposal. While I was pondering these issues, I went to the library and got somehow attracted to a book by Christopher Day “Places of Soul.” In this book, I found out that it is possible to build with earth and I also found the answer to my questions. I chose earth architecture as a subject for my thesis. Through my research, I found out about the work of Nader Khalili and I decided to join the apprenticeship course at CalEarth.

Describe your time studying at CalEarth. How did you find the teaching style and would you recommend this experience to others? My time at CalEarth was very inspiring and what I do now very much derives from that experience. At CalEarth you don’t learn only technical stuff about SuperAdobe; it was an integral teaching for me because it was a place where we could talk about many topics around sustainability and self sufficiency. I experienced it as a “pocket” where I could have the space, the time and the people where I could learn while at the same time look for solutions. SuperAdobe training is very hands-on and we learn by doing and by experimenting. At the end of my apprenticeship, I was physically tired but super fit and ready to carry this knowledge with me back to Italy. I would definitely recommend this experience.

Tell us about your first SuperAdobe project. What structure did you build and what did you use it for? My first project, outside of the institute, was a pouch (half dome) built at a music festival in Italy. I was with another apprentice and another person that followed a week workshop; all of us wanted so much to build a dome with SuperAdobe for the first time in Italy. That dome was a demonstration, a performance (we built it during the festival) but most of all a manifesto because I carried with me only luggage with some single bags, a small roll of barbed wire and a chain, my friend had a knife...that’s it. We didn’t have anything else apart from a shovel that someone lent us. We managed to build a tamper and a half dome in 3 days.

You built a partially underground dome in Abruzzo, Italy. Why did you choose to build underground and what additional steps did you have to take to build underground vs. if you had built above ground? Well the underground dome was not my idea actually; I organized a workshop in Abruzzo and when I arrived there 2 days before the workshop I found a huge hole in the ground. The host of the workshop, who was the owner of the land, told me that he changed his mind and actually he preferred an underground dome. I didn’t have the time to set a new place so I had to deal with it and so we built a partially undeground dome. I was lucky that the ground on which I built was allowing the water to drain very easily and that the dome was built on the side of a hill. Nevertheless, I had to build a trench to divert the water which meant a lot of digging. The key is to think how water “thinks,” allow the water to drain away (and this it is not always possible) and protect the bags well underground from water and also from water vapor. It is a bit risky to build underground because if something goes wrong, it is really difficult to fix the problem or to do some maintenance. I would recommend this more for a hot and dry climate.

In addition to domes, you have also built other structures such as benches, garden beds and walls. Why do you choose to use SuperAdobe for these projects instead of building with bricks or other type of material? I always liked to experiment and research, it is part of my nature, so I must admit that one of the reasons I chose to build these landscape elements with SuperAdobe was to check how they would cope with the climate in which I live. Another reason is because SuperAdobe helps me to generate fluent and organic shapes, and also I wanted to prove to myself that I could build those elements without purchasing ready-made bricks.

The earth spiral you built in a public park encompasses both form and function. What was your inspiration for the project? I am not sure what the inspiration was, it just came somehow. I was definitely inspired by organic shapes, spirals, Fibonacci and so on. First I modeled the spiral with clay (I made a model) as I thought it would just be a bench. Then I thought it would be useful to have a table also but I didn’t like the idea of having 2 circles, and then when I had the model in front of me I realized that it was enough to change the level of the inside part of the spiral to create a table without interrupting the spiral. Yes, it was a kind of “Eureka!” moment.

You travel the globe hosting SuperAdobe workshops. How do you choose where to host? Most of the time it is not me that looks for a host but rather people who contact me because they want to host a workshop. I make sure they understand what it takes to host a workshop, if they have the requirements, I go to meet them, if it is possible, and if I feel we can trust each other, we collaborate and organize a workshop there.

Tell us about a future project. Do you allow volunteers to help or will you hire builders to complete the structure? At the moment, I am discussing the possibility of flying this summer to Indonesia to help some locals that have lost their house during the last tsunami. Then I will lead two workshops in Italy this year and I hope to build a dome with a group of women for a center that supports women that suffered violence.

I do work sometimes with volunteers and if the budget of the project allows, I also like to hire some help.

If you could describe the SuperAdobe buildings you have created in one word, what would it be? I think at the moment I would describe my work as “proudly non-mainstream.”