Uncommon Good Whole Earth Building

Uncommon Good Greenspace in Claremont, CA - LA County)
Uncommon Good Greenspace in Claremont, CA – LA County)

Architect – Claremont Environmental Design Group (CEDG)
Contractor – Oasis Design and Construction
Earthbag/Vault Builder/Consultant – United Earth Builders (UEB)

“Though Uncommon Good is a human services organization, we realize that helping the poor and saving the planet have become inseparable tasks. For when resources are scarce, or environmental disasters occur, it is the poor who suffer first and worst. Therefore, we want to set an example of caring for the environment and caring for each other in the way that we house and operate our organization.

For the past twelve years, the generous Our Lady of the Assumption Church has been providing Uncommon Good with free office space. Yet the building in which we work now is slated for removal and we have outgrown the space. Instead of renting or purchasing commercial property in a sterile strip mall, we are pursuing a different path –creating a Whole Earth Building that will be our office and an environmental education center. Ninety percent of the building materials will be on-site earth, and the resulting structure will have a zero carbon footprint.

Whole Earth Building Concept
Whole Earth Buildings are an innovative way to combat the massive global footprint caused by standard buildings. Traditional buildings are one of the largest contributors to climate change, both through their construction and through their greenhouse gas emissions caused by the enormous amounts of energy they consume, particularly in the United States. Buildings account for 40% of U.S energy use, 70% of electricity consumption and 12% of potable water use.

Whole Earth Building transforms modern architecture, which depletes natural resources, into a method of building which is affordable, sustainable, functional and beautiful. It uses little more than the earth itself as building material.

The technique can be used to create a building of any size, any number of rooms, and a wide variety of shapes. Our Whole Earth Building meets all Los Angeles County building codes, the strictest codes in the United States, and possibly in the world. It can withstand earthquakes of up to 8.0 on the Richter Scale. It is comfortable in extremes of temperature. It is fire resistant, as an earthen pot is in a kiln. These are the climate challenges that face much of southern California.”

Uncommon Good’s Grand Opening for the first-in-the-world Whole Earth Building on Saturday, April 20, 2013 in celebration of Earth Day. Everyone is welcome!

Website: Uncommon Good Greenspace

8 thoughts on “Uncommon Good Whole Earth Building”

  1. I just saw this video for the first time. I worked on this building alongside James and many others. We had a core crew, which was often supplemented by day laborers and volunteers. The vault mix was applied, as Jay said, by hand, in layers. The thickness of the vault “slabs” varied according to the vault span, with the vault slab ranging from 5″ to 7″ thick. The 5″ thick vault slab (for vaults of 8′ and 12′ spans) was applied in two layers. The 6″ and 7″ thick slabs (for vaults of 14′ and 16′ spans) were applied in three layers. Only enough time was left between layers for a very initial cure to occur. We generally did not leave a layer for more than 45 minutes before going back and beginning to apply the next layer. They were screeded, floated, and later scrubbed. The plans indicate that the vault mix could be sprayed on as well. We learned A LOT on this project. Very, very good people are utilizing this building.

  2. These guys ROCK! and are applying what “some other” organizations talk about but today sadly don’t..

    We need to get you out to Walker’s Folly Farm in future time to introduce this to the East Coast and beyond…

    Check us out at IPACMERC (dot) org to see what we mean..

    Blessings and we’ll be in touch..

  3. There are a number of videos on YouTube of this structure being built. Search “Uncommon Good Super Adobe” and you’ll find most of them.

    Those videos will answer a lot of the common questions, probably among the most common questions will be, “what method did they use to build the vaults?” The videos show it clearly.

    • There’s a photo on their website that shows the rebar vault. James of United Earth Builders says the bags complete the espar and stem walls up to a 5′ springline. The vaults are constructed with the same mix as the bags and rebar/remesh.

      Please post a link to the best video (especially one showing vault construction) if you have a chance.

      • Since I haven’t watched all the videos, I can’t say which might be the “best.” However, I’ll try not to totally cop out and give some kind of answer to your request.

        This video has some decent footage of a vault under construction, but it also is very long and significant portions of the video are extremely annoying (some of the audio has some nasty interference or something.) If you can tolerate the noise and look carefully, the video can answer many questions just by careful viewing. At least it starts out showing a vault under construction, and as soon as you get frustrated with the audio quality, you can stop viewing.

        This video is a good timelapse of the bag work, but stops before vault construction.

        I wouldn’t call either video “Best,” but that’s the best response to your request I have to offer.

        • Thanks, Jay. It’s pretty good. The video would have benefited from some commentary. People are naturally going to be curious about the vaults. Whereas Khalili used concrete vaults, James said these vaults are made with the same material as the walls (cement stabilized earth). So I’m guessing they sprayed the mix against a form as PISE (Pneumatically Impacted Stabilized Earth)


          • Watch the videos. They did not spray.

            They applied the cement stabilized soil by hand using “Cob-Like” loaves and techniques.

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