Superadobe: Using soil to build sustainable houses

In the age of climate change, building sustainable structures can save many lives.

And this what environmentalists Beau Baconguis and Ipat Luna have in mind when they decided to introduce to the country a sustainable and earth-friendly house structure called superadobe earthen domes.

Superadobe is the technology of building houses that utilizes the soil as the main material for construction.

“We wanted to promote sustainable forms of housing, and we’ve been environmentalists for a long time, we decided that maybe it’s time to push this kind of architecture to the Filipinos, especially now in the age of climate change where we’re facing typhoons and other extreme weather events, we have earthquakes, this kind of structures that we are making we feel solutions to these kinds of issues,” Baconguis said.

Baconguis learned the technology while studying permaculture in the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (Cal-Earth).

"It happened that the course the Cal-Earth was organizing had a superadobe back to back workshop. So I took it not really knowing if I would enjoy it, I would like, but then when i got there I was hooked, and then I even went back to take another course and take the long term apprenticeship course," she said.

Believing that the superadobe domes offer a viable housing alternative for the climate change vulnerable Philippines, Baconguis wanted the technology to be in the country.

"If you look at the kind of shelters now, especially after Yolanda, you will see that most of the houses are a little bit clumsy, they are blown away one typhoon later. Because domes are very stable in terms of its geometry, we wanted to promote it all around the world so that this kind of architecture becomes more mainstream," she said.

Working alongside Baconguis is Cal-Earth instructor Brandon Evans, whose expertise lies in the technical aspect of the building.

“We chose to build in a dome shape, as it particularly like a lancet shape which is a more pointed dome, because the geometry of it allows the forces of gravity to instead pull it apart like the way in a traditional home, it actually works to make it stronger because it is pulling it down into the ground, more balanced and even," Evans said.

"Also any kind of energy that hits it from the side like an earthquake, or strong wind, typhoon, waves, it allows to really diffuse the energy around the building instead of it hitting a solid flat wall, in which case all the energy would hit it at once,” he added.

Currently, the workshops for the superadobe houses are conducted at Kapusod in Mataasnakahoy, Batangas.

During workshops, participants are taught to determine whether the soil is good for building. And if it is not, they are taught to develop the soil as an acceptable material by removing the organic materials that might decompose and weakened it.

Polypropelyne bags or rice sacks are used to build the earthen domes because these bags are what are usually found during emergency situations.

The polypropelyne bags are woven together and are filled with soil. These bags are sacked, with the barbed wire placed over each level.

"An then barbed wire is used to provide the tensile strength of the building... We put plaster over it, your walls become breathable. Then if you plaster it with lime or clay, which means water vapor can pass through the walls and that helps regulate the temperature inside your house," Baconguis said.

A 10-foot diameter dome can be finished by around 10 people in only five days.

Baconguis added this technology can bring simple people together to build their own climate-resilient houses.

“I think one good thing about it too especially for Filipinos is that it builds the bayanihan spirit, like in an emergency situation for example in a disaster area, you will have people that are not doing anything, they can help build building their own houses, this is something that could bring people together,” she said.

“I want to be able to teach as many people as I can so that they themselves can teach others and build their own communities with more sustainable material, more climate-resilient housing, more typhoon-proof, earthquake-proof houses for themselves.”

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