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CalEarth: Shelter for All

EcoDome at CalEarth

The California Institute of Earth, or “CalEarth,” is a non-profit organization that has created sustainable, affordable and beautiful solutions to the human need for shelter worldwide. We are obsessed with CalEarth’s work because their mission is important now more than ever. Did you know that our current global housing shortage includes some 20-40 million refugees and displaced persons, and millions of people who technically have shelter but in slums or substandard conditions? Those are some heavy numbers to swallow, but CalEarth is doing something about it! CalEarth’s mission is to develop and educate the public in self-help, environmentally sustainable building designs that anyone can build with their own two hands, using locally available earth, sandbags and barbed wire, that meet modern-day standards for safety, beauty, energy efficiency, and comfort.  Not only do we love the mission and the process, but the outcome is also breathtakingly beautiful!

The structures CalEarth builds are called SuperAdobes. They are built using sandbags filled with moistened earth and arranged in layers or long coils. Then, barbed wire is used between each sandbag layer as reinforcement. It’s sort of like ceramicists who stacks coils of clay to make a vessel, except CalEarth builders are stacking coils of earth to make a structure! The coiling method creates really sturdy, earthquake-safe structures that have a hypnotic quality to them.

CalEarth founder and architect, Nader Khalili, built SuperAdobe structures all over California, including New Cayuma and Joshua Tree, before he passed away in 2008. Now his children, Dastan and Sheefteh, are carrying his vision forward. If you live in California, you can meet Dastan and Sheefteh at one of CalEarth’s monthly open houses (the next one is on March 3, 2018) in Hesperia. They also host workshops so you can learn how to build your own SuperAdobe! If Hesperia is too far for you, don’t worry, Cal Earth’s got online courses too. Here at Jungalow we’re thinking of how we can incorporate this incredible technique into some of our own projects. (And the above photos were styled by our talented friend Cordelia Reynold who told us about this amazing project.)

“Water Village” is one of two emergency shelter villages located at CalEarth.

The Bonita Domes in Joshua Tree were built by CalEarth alumna Lisa Starr.

We think there is something really organic about the domes and arches of the SuperAdobes and California’s topography. But SuperAdobe homes aren’t just a California thing – they’re a worldwide phenomenon! Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Djibouti, France, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Iran, Jamaica, Jordan, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Senegal, Siberia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Thailand, and Venezuela are just some of the countries known to have SuperAdobe structures. The SuperAdobes here in the U.S. and abroad are used as emergency housing, birthing centers, wellness retreats and personal residences.  

This SuperAdobe is home to rescued child laborers in Kolhapur, India and was built by the Ghandi Worldwide Federation.

This SuperAdobe was built in Jericho by a group of Palestinian architects from ShamsArd.

The Santa Isabel Ecovillage in Chihuahua, Mexico was built by alumni Ramon Quintana and includes multiple interconnected domes and vaults

Junoot, located in Oman, was awarded the World Architecture Award in 2012.

If you’d like to support CalEarth’s mission of teaching and empowering people worldwide to build their own homes in an affordable and sustainable way, you can become a member or donate to support this visionary organization here. You can also check out CalEarth’s website or follow them on Instagram.

All images c/o CalEarth, shared with permission. 

Sara Rose

Creative Counsel at Jungalow and lover of all things wild!

4 responses to “CalEarth: Shelter for All”

  1. Bubbie B says:

    what a beautiful partnership. thank you for sharing

  2. mari lorenzon says:

    We’ve been looking at Cob houses for some time now. Planning on building one when we move up to Salt Lake area this summer from Texas. Thank you so much for sharing. Will definitely look them up and sign up for their courses although would LOVE to go in person ;)

  3. Antonella says:

    Wow, these structures are amazing!!! Do you know of other kind of eco-dwellings suitable for continental Europe climate?

  4. Lecturer Al-Otaibi says:

    It is great idea I believe in current time. Most of people like this design but my question is if I have big space and it is one floor design can do this architecture style. I have plan and I can make beautiful facades but I want this built ..


    Dar Al-Uloom University

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