Building a Glorieta

Many of you may have wondered what the structure shown in our masthead is.  These images are of a Glorieta that is a sort of glorified gazebo that  emerged directly from the soil surrounding it.  This was created as part of  a conference about sustainability, held in Crestone, Colorado in 2003, attended by youth from around the world.

I felt it was important to use local materials as much as possible. With my experience in building with earthbags, I knew that it was possible to fill these bags with the fine sand that the entire hill was composed of, and create an actual building. As long as the bags of sand were stacked vertically, rather than inclined as for a dome, the structure should be plenty stable.

Part of my plan was to terrace the hill in such a way that the soil removed in the excavation would be used to fill the bags. This terracing would then create a natural amphitheater, with the Glorieta serving as a sort of stage area for performances. To accentuate this function, the Glorieta has buttress wings that open out toward the amphitheater and an opening wide enough to accommodate a small musical ensemble that would be in full view of an audience.

Another function of the Glorieta is to provide a shady place to socialize, convene classes or workshops, or simply be contemplative. For this reason I designed built-in benches both inside and outside the circular structure. The shade would come from a conical roof framed with small cottonwood trees that had died from a previous drought, and even smaller branches that would be woven around these rafters. This roof structure would be self-supporting, with the small ends of the trees wired to a central steel hoop, and the larger ends pinned to the earthbag wall with lengths of steel rebar. Barbed wire embedded between each course of bags serves to keep the circular wall from expansion from the outward force of the rafters.

With all of the interest in building emergency shelters with simple methods using mostly local materials, it seems important to me to show an example of a concept that could adapted for such emergency situations. This design could be changed some to not only provide such shelter, but also be finished as a low-cost permanent house.

To read more about this project and see more pictures visit

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