BIG thank you to Alta Vista Innovation High School for the generous donation of $1,700! Alta Vista is part of Learn4Life, a network of non-profit public schools that provides students with life skills, learning plans and career training. Each month, one of the schools in the Learn4Life program chooses an organization to raise funds for and Alta Vista chose CalEarth. We look forward to touring the students soon at our re-opened campus!
At just 22 years old, Sonny has already accomplished so much, including building an incredible SuperAdobe dome for his brother, Tommy. Learn how Sonny became inspired by this method of building and how he has taken his passion for SuperAdobe to the next level - teaching workshops!
How did you learn to build with SuperAdobe?
I must have read a dozen books on the subject of SuperAdobe/Earthbag building before signing up for CalEarth's long-term apprenticeship and it was during this time that I really began to notice a change within myself. I truly began developing the understanding and technique behind SuperAdobe and what a privilege that was. Fundamentally speaking, SuperAdobe is indeed a simple concept, but CalEarth taught me all of the intricacies that were not in any of the books that I had read and I certainly wouldn't have discovered them on my own.
What inspired you to learn this type of building method?
I originally discovered SuperAdobe when I was 16 years old; I am 22 now, but at that time I remember initially being attracted to the low-cost aspect of it all. The thought of being able to build my own house and to have it entirely paid off gave me a great deal of inspiration. But as I began working and learning how to build with the earth, it dawned on me that even if I had all of the money in the world, I would still build this way. There is just something so inexpressibly intriguing about it.
Tell us about your apprenticeship at CalEarth. What did you build during the apprenticeship and what did you enjoy learning the most?
My first CalEarth apprenticeship was in September of 2017 and our apprentice group mainly worked on Dave and Debby Walker's house. We were happy to help them turn their dreams into reality, while at the same time, learn the key concepts behind SuperAdobe. I must say that out of everything I learned at CalEarth, I really enjoyed learning the numerous little tricks in manipulating the bag as well as the barbed wire.
What do you wish the general public knew about CalEarth that most do not?
What CalEarth teaches is outwardly prodigious, and undeniably so, but what the general public doesn't see is the aspect of personal development in which every CalEarth student undergoes during their stay. Those of us who have been through Cal Earth's workshops/apprenticeships will know exactly what I am talking about. In my eyes, it is the epitome of the hero's journey.
“Tommy’s Tea Dome;” the name alone intrigues us. Why did you build this structure?
I built this dome for my brother Tommy and his main passion in life is the art of traditional tea. This dome acts as a transition from the outside world into a tea-focused environment also known as a tea house, or in this case, "Tommy's Tea Dome."
Tell us about Tommy. What does this dome mean to him?
My brother Tommy is 24 years old and suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. He used to be able to walk, run, and function just like a normal person, but with his condition, he becomes progressively weaker over time. At this point in his life, he is permanently bound to an electric wheelchair and has few hobbies, although the hobbies he does have he is extremely passionate about, one of them being tea. I built this dome for him to take his passion of tea to the next level.
How long did Tommy’s Tea Dome take to build and how much did it cost?
Tommy's Tea Dome took roughly a year to complete although it is important to note that there were a few times where many months had gone by without any work done to the structure. After the bag work was completed, I began doing the majority of the finish work on my own, including installing electricity, plastering/rendering, installing windows and a door, building a rocket mass heater, and the list goes on. With that being said, all of these things took quite a while for me, but I did have some help at times from friends and also my mother. The cost of Tommy's Tea Dome in materials is $1,900 which includes a ceiling fan, electricity, a door, windows, a rocket mass heater, as well as the bag, barbed wire, and all of the other building materials. The labor for building the structure was done by my friends and I as well as my mother.
Did you run into any challenges while building the dome?
Thinking back, it seems to me that every step of this build was a challenge but when I walk around Tommy's Tea Dome and look at it and touch it, I think back to all of those challenging times and feel proud that we always proceeded on to the next step no matter how impossible it seemed at the time, and that is what life is all about.
Are you currently working on any SuperAdobe projects or do you have plans for future projects?
I just finished teaching a five-day SuperAdobe workshop in Northern California which was a huge success. We had twelve students from many different parts of California attend, as well as two students from out of state. It is looking like I will be teaching more SuperAdobe workshops as well as managing some other local projects all while trying to juggle my college schedule. I am very excited to see what projects come my way.
If Tommy could describe his dome in one word, what would it be?
"Wabi" (Japanese) meaning: beautiful in its simplicity - perfect imperfections
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
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.