SuperAdobe Spotlight: Bonita Domes

Tucked away in Joshua Tree, CA, lies Bonita Domes a luxurious private home studio retreat. Owned, designed and built by Drum Medicine Woman, Lisa Starr, Bonita Domes is a model of SuperAdobe technology at it's finest. After attending a one-week intensive workshop on dome building, plasters, and finishes at CalEarth, Lisa set out on her own adventure to build her dream dome home. The home is comprised of three separate structures; one 12-foot diameter dome and two 8-foot diameter domes plus her own private 1,360 square foot dome home. Walk around the property and you'll discover a communal kiva fire pit, shower house, an art studio and more! Having sourced 85% of the retreat's materials from her own land, Lisa strives to create a sustainable life living in peace with nature.

“Bonita Domes is the dream that was calling me about building my own house, building community and working and playing with the earth within my spiritual practice. I kept following my heart and spirit and somewhere along the line of that calling out, the dream met me. I think we are coming to a time where the other side is meeting us to make us whole and complete," said Lisa. 

Guests who visit Bonita Domes come to relax and rejuvenate. In addition to tours of the retreat, Lisa offers a group Drum Medicine Journey as a wellness experience where guests can enhance their own spiritual practice through the use of instruments and take part in private Shamanic Healing sessions. Stargazing is also a must at this desert oasis!

For more information about Bonita Domes, visit Lisa’s website:

CalEarth has BIG News to Share!

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Yesterday, president of CalEarth, Dastan Khalili and consulting civil engineer Vicki Gray presented to the International Code Council (ICC) and received approval to develop evaluation criteria and perform final testing on SuperAdobe. This is a HUGE step toward making it easier for anyone to build permitted SuperAdobe structures worldwide.

While there are still a few steps left in the approval process, this is a monumental win for CalEarth and the future of SuperAdobe. Moving forward, we will work to establish evaluation criteria for qualifying cement stabilized earthbags as an alternative to adobe masonry for use in the construction of single-story residential structures under the 2018 International Residential Code. SuperAdobe will then join Strawbale as one of the only sustainable building techniques with ICC criteria.

While this has been a great accomplishment for CalEarth, we are still faced with the challenge of re-opening our campus. We also must fund our final ICC testing and we cannot do this without your help.

Please join us in revolutionizing the way the world builds and help us bring SuperAdobe to the forefront of green building technology.

Make a donation today!

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?