While earthbag homes originated from historic military bunker construction and temporary flood control methods, they have since evolved into creative and artistic expressions of sustainable building. Earthbag construction is now being employed across the world to build affordable and inspiring homes for people in need, using locally-sourced materials and labor.
$300 “Stone Dome”
Like its name suggests, the “Stone Dome” is an earthbag home which costs just $300 to build. This 257 square foot home is constructed using geopolymer cast stone and is the brainchild of Dr. Owen Geiger and Kelly Hart. They were inspired to use geopolymer cast stone as a low cost and durable fill material after research findings indicated that ancient peoples had done the same to construct large-scale pyramids and temples.
Sodium carbonate and lime can easily be purchased off the shelf and mixed with limestone and water to create this “stone” material, while the waste materials of fly ash, iron ore processing slag and mine tailings could also be used to produce geopolymer cement.
The result is a rot-proof, waterproof and bulletproof structure which has the potential to last thousands of years. Dr. Owen Geiger explains that it’s more suitable than concrete which can be brittle, shrinks/cracks as it dries and is vulnerable to acidic reactions, not to mention its expense and contribution to global climate change.
The $300 “Stone Dome” is a compact structure which provides the basics for those with little money and no building experience, with the design enabling you to expand in the future.
The Konbit Shelter
Conceived in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake which rocked Haiti in 2010, the Konbit Shelter is a community project designed to offer affordable, ecologically responsible and creative housing for those affected by this natural disaster. It was started by a small group of artists who were interested in how the creative process would brighten the lives of those living in crisis and has since evolved into a long-term community relationship with the village of Cormiers.
So far a community center and two family earthbag homes have been constructed using the Super-Adobe architectural style developed by Iranian-born architect Nadir Khalili. Locally available materials were used to create incredibly strong buildings made from 90% earth and 10% cement. The earthbag homes are earthquake, tornado, fire and flood resistant, while knowledge of sustainable construction has been shared throughout the community.
The idea was not only to create shelters in a time of need but to build soulful structures with an emphasis on beauty and creativity. The project has provided much-needed jobs in the aftermath of the earthquake and a sense of achievement amidst the chaos and displacement which ensued.
In Haitian Creole, “Konbit” is a traditional form of cooperative labor and a time for solidarity in the face of adversity. The Konbit Shelter project exemplified this, with people coming together from across the world to create inspiring earthbag homes.
Project Somos is creating a village for abandoned and orphaned children using earthbag homes near the town of Tecpán in Guatemala. It’s a project of the Compassion Fruit Society, a Canadian-based NGO which aims to create beautiful, affordable and sustainable shelters for those in need.
Seven earthbag homes are being created to house not only orphans but also mothers and children living in poverty, while a community hall, dorm rooms for volunteers, a preschool and playground are all part of the plan. The earthbag homes were designed by Guatemalan architect Cecilia Rodriguez to exude beauty and harmony, something that Project Somos believes is essential to the healing process.
The village also includes a Music, Art & Culture Dome using earthbag construction methods. This will serve as a place for children to express themselves through art and music, as well as providing a therapeutic space for mothers to heal, overcome traumas and develop self-confidence.
Designed by Japanese architect Kikuma Watanabe of +D Environmental Design System Laboratory, the Shine Shrine is an earthbag dome that was created on a vacant lot of land between two highways in Niigata City, Japan. It was created to be “an air pocket in the city”, providing a tranquil space for reflection and meditation amidst the surrounding bustle.
The Shinto Shrine was designed in 2012 as part of the Water and Land Art Festival in Niigata City on a site previously occupied by residential housing. Kikuma Watanabe explains that “we are forgetting the memory of the city. Eventually, we cannot remember what we are, where we came from, where we are going! In this shrine, we can be lost in meditation within the calm space of the main hall. We are able to find ourselves and remember our origin in the dome filled with Mother Earth.”
The dome-shaped meditation hall was constructed using earthbags and is connected to a smaller shine at the front with a winding entrance passageway. The northeastern side was clad using pieces of galvanized iron sheet, while grass covers its southern wall, creating a unique blend of natural and man-made elements.
East African Eco-Village
Also designed by Japanese architect Kikuma Watanabe, the East African Eco-Village was created on the shores of Lake Victoria where Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi meet. Citizens from all five countries joined the project to learn sustainable earthbag building techniques, which are hoped to help alleviate poverty which affects more than three million people in the region. Locals spent one month staying and working on the project to learn all aspects of building earthbag homes, with the philosophy that it is better to teach people how to fish, rather than give them fish.
The East African Eco-Village includes three clusters of buildings with a water tower at the center of each, ensuring everyone has access to this vital resource. Each cluster is composed of four units, which include a living room, two bedrooms, a kitchen, toilet, bathroom and meditation room.
The earthbag domes offer protection from fire, wind and rain, providing a better alternative to traditional thatched shelters or tents. Electricity is supplied using a bird wing wind power generator, while bamboo groves have been planted to create effective wind corridors to channel this resource.