CalEarth: Home of the SuperAdobes
As an LA-based brand we’re always on the lookout for local organizations and individuals making positive change in our own backyard.
This month we’re spotlighting the California Institute of Earth Architecture, CalEarth, a nonprofit based in Hesperia that our founders Caroline and César fell hard for after building their own fully sustainable dome in a weekend-long workshop.
The dome in question was not your standard structure. CalEarth teaches and practices the art of earth architecture, a form of building that’s been in use for centuries and uses mud, clay, soil, dirt, and dust as its primary materials.
Earth turns to gold in the hands of the wise. — Rumi
A quick scroll through CalEarth’s Instagram feed is a trippy, alternate-universe dive into what it would be like to live in a world imagined by Dr. Seuss: mushroom shaped houses with fish-eye portholes; delicately tapered cones painted burnt sienna or ultraviolet; gigantic skylights made of multicolored glass.
And, while there’s no rule that says these beautifully funky structures look better in groups, they often pop up in clusters. The implicit message seems to be: You don’t have to live on a commune, but why wouldn’t you?
Examples of earth architecture from around the world.
DESIGNED FROM THE GROUND UP
CalEarth teaches students how to build their own safe, sustainable, and affordable homes. Founded by Iranian architect Nader Khalili, an advocate for longterm solutions to the global housing crisis, the institute operates on the principle that every person should be empowered to build a home with their own hands using the earth under their feet.
Quick to assemble and intentionally easy to build, their trademark SuperAdobe structures have been used in refugee sites and crisis centers worldwide.
No one can prove there is a meaning to life. I must make my own life meaningful. That is all. — Nader Khalili
Born in Iran as one of nine children, Khalili was a visionary and a romantic. Inspired by the work of the mystic poet Rumi, his principle design elements were earth, air, water, and fire — “poetry crystallized into structure.”
In addition to his work as an earth architect Khalili, who passed away in 2008, experimented with lunar and space habitation. His designs and insights were sought out by fellow scientists throughout his career and his sustainable solutions to human shelter were published by NASA and recognized by the United Nations.
Clockwise from top left: Nader Khalili; SuperAdobes; archival footage from one of Khalili’s presentations on lunar structures.
CalEarth is best known for its SuperAdobe technology, a building system designed by Khalili that integrates traditional earth architecture with contemporary requirements for safety, beauty, energy efficiency, and comfort.
Using sandbags, barbed wire, on-site earth and a few tools, SuperAdobes are fireproof, hurricane proof, tornado proof, and earthquake resistant. They stay cool in hot climates, are easy to warm, and are much less expensive to build than a typical house.
Depending on your needs, a SuperAdobe structure can be as elaborate or simple as the builder desires. But, however you choose to design it, the CalEarth ethos gently insists you have a hand in building it. The suggestion is that we tend to take better care of that which we’ve had a hand in creating. This belief is reflected in the organization’s guidelines for measuring sustainability:
- Is it affordable?
- Is it accessible?
- Can you participate in it?
Even if you’re unable to build a structure you plan to live in yourself, CalEarth recommends taking a course and familiarizing yourself with the principles. By demystifying home building there’s a greater chance of feeling less helpless in the face of homelessness and housing shortages.
Clockwise from top left: Caroline at CalEarth’s dome building workshop; the interior of a SuperAdobe dome; César and Caroline after a weekend of dome building.
CalEarth offers a variety of workshops, volunteer opportunities, and apprenticeships. Financial contributions fund the organization’s ongoing research and development of sustainable solutions for the future. Become a CalEarth member with a monthly donation of $10 or a one-time donation of $50 or more and receive a 10% discount on workshops and online content.