Sustainable Technology

Superadobe – Building Sustainable Houses from Freely Available Materials

The California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture, or Cal-Earth is a non-profit foundation that promotes the use of sustainable housing and construction materials available almost anywhere: earth, sandbags and barbed wire.

Founded in 1986, by the late architect Nadel Khalili, Cal-Earth has a philosophy based on the equilibrium of natural elements (fire, water, earth and air) and guides its mission by three principles: (1) shelter is a basic human right, (2) every human being should be able to build a house for him or herself, and (3) the best way to provide shelter for the exponentially increasing human population is by building with earth. The foundation is promoting breakthrough building technologies developed by Khalili, known as Superadobe and Ceramic Housing, that allow practically anyone to build their own houses with freely available earth.

Superadobe (sandbags and barbed wire) is a large, long adobe that uses the materials of war for peaceful, humanitarian purposes, integrating traditional earth architecture with modern safety requirements. Long or short sandbags are first filled with earth and arranged in layers or long coils with strands of barbed wire placed to act as mortar and reinforcement. Builders may also use cement, lime or asphalt emulsion as stabilizers, but they are not necessary. The innovative use of barbed wire adds a tensile element to traditional earthen buildings, providing earthquake resistance, while the use of sandbags makes the structures flood-proof and easy to assemble, and the earth itself provides insulation and fire-proofing. This technology was first presented by Nader Khalili to NASA for building sustainable habitats on the moon and Mars, but is now offered freely to the needy people of the world and licensed for commercial use.

Superadobe emergency shelters can be built in a matter of hours and Khalili hoped they would be used to provide shelter for victims of natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes. This kind of temporary structures, if allowed to degrade, return to the earth, but they can also be converted into permanent houses by plastering over synthetic sandbags, to provide an erosion resisting layer. This kind of alternative housing is also a viable solution for people who have lost, or are losing their houses to foreclosure, seeing that all you need is a small piece of land and the knowledge to make Superadobe.

Cal-Earth’s Superadobe buildings have successfully passed tests for California’s high seismic building codes, and have been deemed resistant to natural hazards like fires, floods and hurricanes. Their design and thermal mass make them comfortable living spaces in the harshest environments on Earth, they can be built using almost any kind of earth, and the whole family can participate.




Photos by


No comments yet.

Post a Comment