SuperAdobe Story: Laura and Caitlin's Sculpture Garden

By using their backgrounds in fine art and knowledge of SuperAdobe, Laura Smith and Caitlin Deane created a sculpture garden at CalEarth in 2015 that fosters community, interaction, and conversation. This series of three site-specific works is made from stabilized sandbags, and pushes the strength of the arch - a founding principle of the CalEarth curriculum. Laura and Caitlin wanted to explore what the bag was capable of, the flexibility of shape and form, and wanted to inspire others to see that earth architecture can be simultaneously playful and functional.

Since its creation, the SuperAdobe Sculpture Garden has become a hub during children’s workshops and a meditative space for apprentices and visitors alike. Laura and Caitlin look forward to reuniting again in the future to make new work together!

At CalEarth, Caitlin and Laura both completed CalEarth's Dome and Vault Long-Term Apprenticeships in 2012 and 2013.

1. Tell us about the history behind the sculpture garden. How did you both get started on this piece? Our sculpture garden idea was a long time coming, as we conceived of it when we first met back in the spring of 2013. That autumn, we both worked together on the first CalEarth Long-Term Vault Program with three other peers, and built a 12x24 freestanding SuperAdobe vault in 12 weeks. That program showed us how well we work together and how similar our ideas were. Because we both have BFAs in various fine art mediums, we really viewed SuperAdobe as another process through which to make large-scale outdoor sculptures, not just homes.

We started brainstorming the idea of a site-specific CalEarth sculpture garden in the fall of 2014 via Skype, Facebook, and email as Laura was finishing up projects abroad. We pitched the 12-week sculpture program idea with a timeline, budget, and sketches and it was a go!

2. Describe the process for creating one of your pieces. What went into construction? We wanted to treat our program like any other artist residency, so we did our best to be clear with our intentions for the space. We made clay models, mathematical 2D sketches, and artist sketches in perspective with the surrounding trees. Once we settled on three designs, we started sketching on the ground and repurposing wooden forms to create our “negative space.” Forms, which are normally used for windows and doorways, in this instance, were used to hold our complex creations in place.

Once the forms were finished, we started digging! Our first piece “Earthrise,” was Caitlin’s idea to celebrate geometry and echo forms in nature, such as the rainbow. We envisioned a playground akin to monkey bars where kids could climb on and into a tunnel of decreasing arches, which created an optical illusion.

Our second sculpture, “Loop de Loop”, was Laura’s idea to create a whimsical bench that incorporated more advanced bagging techniques. Building the “loop” piece on the top layer was challenging and rewarding, as it is not normally a shape we see in building! Our third sculpture, a ring of arches, was a group idea between Dastan and the two of us. We built the ring using a center compass, as we do with domes, but instead of flat layers of bag, we created tall arches disappearing into the ground and reappearing.

All the large arches in the sculpture garden are bagged, sunk into the ground 1.5' to 2’ deep, speared onto 2-3 pieces of rebar, and cast in concrete. We wanted these pieces to be as safe as possible, so we also added gravel, Portland Cement, and extra rebar where we could. We added wire mesh to make up for unevenness in the bags and did several coats of rough plaster. For our finish coat, we used Lehigh Type 1 White Cement and LaHabra Stucco pigments. The texture was troweled with a sponge finish to create a little grip for safe climbing. Throughout our time building, we battled freezing temperatures and uneven drying due to unexpected storms with 35mph winds! Ultimately, we are proud of what we were able to accomplish, despite some of the more challenging moments.

3. What was your goal for this project? Our goal was to experiment and push the boundaries of SuperAdobe to create pieces that kids and adults could touch and be encouraged to play on. We also wanted this project to be sustainable and affordable, so we used as many reclaimed materials as we could find and only purchased new necessary items.

4. Did you learn any lessons while building these projects? Through this program, we learned that community is INHERENT in SuperAdobe as well as any other natural building method. We really couldn’t have done it alone, and appreciate all the help we received from fellow peers, apprentices, staff members, and alumni. Whether it’s making a dome or a sculpture, having a group build together is not only more efficient, but more fun!

5. What has this work taught you? If anything, this work has taught us the value of perseverance and surrender. Many times we had to re-do layers of bag, deconstruct parts, and do a lot of creative problem solving. There were just as many failures as there were wins, and we deeply value the experience of both. Because there is no “rule book” for creating this kind of work, we had to trust our knowledge of SuperAdobe and our own inner creative processes. What a journey it has truly been since we both stepped through the CalEarth gate! We look forward to keeping our hands dirty and close to the earth.

Phase 1 On-Site Construction is Fully Funded!


We have reached our first fundraising goal! Since launching this campaign, we have received 675 individual donations totaling $49,898! We were also able to sell a land asset this month (closed escrow on 3/15/19) for $126,660!

This means that Phase 1, which includes all on-site improvements, has been fully funded. We have all the permits and expect to break ground April 1st. The estimated cost for Phase One is $87,445 (see the original estimate below), but due to some changes requested by the City of Hesperia, the estimated cost for Phase 2 Off-Site has increased, so the overall project total has gone up to $214,243.

Fortunately with the land sale we have funded the majority of Phase 2 as well, with a remaining total balance of $37,685 (still waiting on final approval from city and final estimate to follow).

As soon as construction begins on Phase 1 (see timeline below), we will continue to raise the remaining funds for Phase 2 off-site improvements.

Thank you to the CalEarth community for helping us raise the funds needed to re-open our campus. Your support and generosity has been overwhelming.

Stay tuned for our official campus re-opening date!


Anticipated Project Timeline:

Learn more about the required Civil Improvements and the history/timeline here.

CalEarth on BBC Future: What is SuperAdobe?

BBC March 5.jpg

CalEarth was recently featured in the BBC's 'Future,' stories that range from health to psychology, climate change to technology.

In this article, meet Pablo Cuauhtémoc Saavedra Castellanas, a resident of Hueyapan, a small town in Morelos, Mexico whose home crumbled during the 2017 7.1 magnitude earthquake. He and his family chose to rebuild using SuperAdobe because of its ability to withstand earthquakes and stand up to the area's harsh environment.

Read more:

SuperAdobe Spotlight: CalEarth Alumni Ayal Bryant

Ayal built with SuperAdobe in Costa Rica and Puerto Rico and continues to teach, build and advocate. Learn more about his extraordinary buildings below!

1. You have built SuperAdobe structures in different countries. How do you choose the location you will build? I have built wuith SuperaAdobe in Costa Rica and Puerto Rico, but these have been for clients who have already defined the project location. What I do is visit the site previous to designing in order to assure that SuperAdobe is the appropriate building technique for that specific site and the client's needs.

2. Why do you choose to build using SuperAdobe over more traditional types of building methods? This is a very important question and I am very careful about recommending SuperAdobe to a client as it is very particular and is not ideal for all situations. If we decide to build with this technique it is because I have analysed factors such as: climate, soil, risks (flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.), aesthetics and availability of workers. I prefer SuperAdobe in dry/hot climates or where earthquakes and hurricanes are a possibility.

3. Tell us about the structures you built. What are they used for? Both structures are used as homes. The first is for a couple who live in it full-time and even offer tours of the house on AirBnB. It is 170m2 and made up of 4 full-sized domes, 4 apses and a main 6m diameter and 2 story kitchen, living, dining and mezzanine. The second is a 70m house comprised of 5 domes built as a home for a couple who are starting an organic farm in the mountains of Puerto Rico.

4. Do you have a team of builders who travel with you or do you employ local builders? I employ local builders as much as possible, otherwise the price of the project becomes too expensive.

5. Highlight some unique design features in each of your buildings. Where did you get the inspiration to incorporate them? The house in Costa Rica was built 2 feet below grade, and a cellar built about 4 feet below grade with the intention of regulating the internal temperature and using all the material removed as fill for the sacks.

We also designed a unique water catchment system dividing the exterior surface of walls in two by means of a farrow cement gutter that runs all the way around the house directing the rainwater into catchment points at the intersections of the domes.

On the Puerto Rico project, we built on a ruble trench foundation that helps keep all the water away from the walls of the house as well as absorbs some of the energy in case of an earthquake. We also incorporated fixing points all around the house for a roof that will be added later.

6. Talk about some of the environmental concerns you had while building and what steps did you take to make the structure suitable for that location? Rainfall was the biggest concern definitely as it slowed construction and affected not only the work pace but the materials as well. As the earth we used had a really high proportion of clay, it was difficult to work with if it was saturated with water.

7. Do your buildings have amenities such as bathrooms and kitchens? If so, how were these spaces constructed? Yes, all the buildings have normal bathrooms and kitchens; this includes composting toilets, tadelakt shower stalls and grey water treatment systems.

8. What surprised you the most when learning to build using SuperAdobe? The beauty of the finished products.

9. If you could describe your buildings in one word, what would it be? Inspiring.