November 2010 Volume V

Emergency Shelter Research and Development

A Note From Dastan Khalili & Sheefteh Khalili

One of the most important aspects of the work we do at Cal-Earth is our focus on emergency shelter design. Our father, Nader Khalili, always reminded his students that there are over a billion people in the world with inadequate shelter, and he spent his life looking for a way for these people to be able to build themselves a home. Cal-Earth’s mission is guided by three principles: (1) shelter is a basic human right, (2) every human being should be able to build a house for themselves and their family, and (3) the best way to provide shelter for the exponentially increasing human population is by building with earth.

In a refugee camp or after a natural disaster, a home can be something as simple as a place to find shelter from rain, sun, wind, and even bullets. By building with Superadobe, we have found that even the most basic, unstabilized shelters, can provide this protection. Many years ago our father began experimenting with building emergency shelters to see how quickly and easily it could be done by untrained builders. A film was created, along with a 2-page basic building guide to serve as instant building tools when disaster strikes.

We have re-created this emergency shelter build on many occasions as a teaching tool for students to see a structure literally go up before their eyes, and to show them the simplicity and accessibility of this work. During the September workshop, we decided to re-visit the emergency shelter build with group of 20 untrained students. These students, led by a few trained instructors, were able to build a 7 foot shelter using small sandbags (standard size that is found throughout the world) in only 8 hours. We estimated that if the same group built a second shelter of the same size, (after having gained the experience of building the first) it would take approximately half the time. We plan to continue this emergency shelter build throughout the upcoming workshop season until we feel confident that we have developed the simplest and most efficient building technique. We are planning to create a new film on how to build an emergency shelter and to translate our basic building guide into as many languages as possible. It is our hope that this building technique can become a sustainable solution to human shelter throughout the world.

Sheefteh Khalili, Chief Financial Officer
Dastan Khalili, President


On-Site Research and Development

At Cal Earth, autumn began with a boom! Our first workshop was a twenty four-person affair, with attendees coming from all over the world. Some came with considerable experience, in fact some actually had their own schools and centers for sustainability. Others were complete beginners who were totally new to building and architecture. A secretary from Switzerland confirmed that those with zero background in building can, with the superadobe method, realistically set about building. Six of the twenty four participants signed up to be long-term apprentices and have since joined the Cal Earth team for a more thorough immersion in this work.

On site, our fire village is moving forward this season and we have built superadobe steps, buttresses and retaining walls. Thanks to long-term apprentice Chloe Wolsey, who is here with us all the way from the Botanic Gardens of Amsterdam, we have been fixing up the soil beds around our trees and shrubs. The remainder of our semester will be focused on waterproofing the roof of our 2,000 sq. ft. earthen home (Earth One), crafting beautiful, earthen countertops and flooring in a conventionally built community house (Main House), and continuing superadobe design and development of our emerging fire village. On Fridays, apprentices work on specific projects. We are currently adding landscaping and earthen benches for a community house and, along with this, work is under way to restore and develop a beautiful fire pit which was built by Nader Khalili and his students and recently rediscovered when apprentices were clearing leaves and plant debris away from an unused part of our site. The Cal Earth site is in full swing and I am reminded that building and designing with superadobe is great fun and incredibly accessible. With this flexible-form superadobe method, projects are not limited to building structures but instead are apt to go in many directions. As always I encourage anyone interested in studying the superadobe method to contact Cal Earth for more details. And to those who may have already taken a workshop — remember — just get started! As architect Nader Khalili would say: build a pizza oven, build a dog house, start small… but build something!

Ian Lodge – Site Director



About kaliyi

distillation of 40 years research and development into sustainable living and building methods.
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