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In the 1980s NASA challenged architects to invent a way of constructing buildings on the moon or Mars where traditional building materials would not be available.  An Iranian American architect named Nader Khalili came up with a simple & ingenious concept which involved minimum material and time.  Khalili’s idea was to fill long plastic tubes with moon dust or space rock and then build dome-shaped buildings from these sandbags (judiciously braced with metal wires).  Although NASA has not yet used the idea to build any space bases, the architectural and building style which Khalili invented has taken off here on Earth, where it can be used to quickly make highly stable, inexpensive structures.

The style of crafting domes out of plastic bags filled with local earthen material is known as super adobe.  Khalili initially thought that his buildings would be used as temporary structures for refugees or disaster victims who had lost their homes, however, when plaster or cement is added to the buildings they can become surprisingly permanent and elegant. Super adobe architecture results in beehive shaped structures filled with arches, domes, and vaults.  Windows and doors can be created by putting inserts into the bags and then building sandbag arches around them, or arch-shaped holes can be sawed into the finished plastered domes. Superadobe domes can be beautifully finished with tiles, glass shards, or other decoration or they can be smoothly plastered.  Khalil created a finish which he called “reptile” where the domes were covered with softball sized balls of concrete and earth.  Reptile finish prevented cracking by creating paths for the structural stress caused as the building settling and by heating/cooling expansion and contraction.

"Reptile" Finish

Superadobe architecture is best suited for the dry hot southwest, but can be used elsewhere (especially if the builder adds a layer of insulation) and can employ a variety of available fill materials.  If the builder uses earth and gravel to create small domes the buildings are surprisingly resistant to earthquakes, floods, and gunfire.  Additionally earthbag buildings are cheap and easily constructed by unskilled builders.  The fact that wood is not required has made the style a focus of environmentalists and green builders.  I am a huge fan of domes, but they are rarely seen outside of huge expensive buildings like churches, legislative houses, and mansions for rich eccentrics.  This paucity of domes could be corrected with more superadobe architecture. Imagine if you could live in an elegant little superadobe dome house with circular woven carpets and little round hearths!  The organic shape of the small houses makes them blend in perfectly with succulent gardens informal flowers and unkempt fruit trees.  Some builders even go a step farther and cover the entire building with grass and plants. I would like to see more such structures built here on Earth and hopefully someday farther afield.

A Heavy Tank made from a Blueberry carton and an Anchovy Can

I have been working hard on a children’s book about how to construct toy vehicles out of items from the rubbish bin.  Since I am getting close to finishing the 75 items required for the book, I thought I would share a few of my creations with you.  I have been using things I found in the garbage can, plus wooden hobby wheels, dowels, and paint from the craft store (although I think the wheels could be cut out of cardboard, and, in a pinch, straws or chopsticks could stand in for dowels).  Any feedback would be appreciated!

A Drag Racer Made out of a Coat Hanger and some Cardboard

The book is part of the “Green and Groovy Crafts” series from Downtown Bookworks, which has already featured titles such as The Lonely Sock Club: One Sock, Tons of Cool Projects! and Boy-Made: Green & Groovy which are available at those online links and at finer bookstores around the nation.  The theme of my book will be “Things that Go.” If the publishers like it, I am slated to make another one about how to create toy robots out of garbage!

The real shock of the project (other than realizing that 75 is a large number) is coming to terms with how much rubbish a household really produces.  I regard myself as an environmentalist in the sense that I care deeply for the earth, its ecosystems, and the organisms that dwell there (although I feel that a great deal of the contemporary green movement is misguided in its philosophy and its ends).  I don’t buy a lot of consumer goods (because they’re expensive and because many seem unnecessary).  I cook rather than ordering take-out. I don’t even drive an automobile: when I go somewhere I take the train or walk.  So, aside from the mixed-up-animal toys I design and produce (which are referenced in this post) I have always thought I have a fairly small ecological footprint.

A Helicopter made out of Cardboard, a Spool, and a Plastic Pod

Looking at all of the plastic bins, anchovy cans, milk cartons, syrup bottles, ointment jars, cups, rolls, bags, cans, bottles, and so on ad nauseum, that have showed up in my garbage certainly calls that view into question.

Anyway on to the rest of the pictures…. It has been fun to build a little society in miniature and my cat enjoyed stalking around the tiny vehicles and associated playscapes like she was Godzilla (you can see her there in a couple of the pictures).  I’ll try to post some more images closer to when the book is due to come out and, naturally, I’ll tell you when that happens.

A Riverboat made from a Shoebox, a Peanut Can, a Clip box, and a Toilet Paper Roll

A Steam Roller Made of a Coffe Can, an Almond Can, and a Shoebox

A Buggy made from a Detergent Bottle and a Coat Hanger

A Viking Boat Made from Carboard and Chopsticks (notice my cat ready to maraud)

A Regional Jetliner made from Cardboard, Spools, a Clothes Hanger, and a Paper Towel Roll

A Locomotive (Soapbox, Corks, Toilet Paper Roll, and Cut-up Bottle) and Caboose (Shoe Box, Milk Carton, and Toilet Paper Roll)

A Playscape with Hospital and Fire House

An Old-Fashioned Hearse Made From Cardboard

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