Earthbag Dome Workshop in Chiang Dao

One of our recent workshops was on making an Earthbag Dome.  This was taught by Paulina Wojciechowska of Earth Hands & Houses (EarthHandsAndHouses.org).  Paulina was one of the first people to bring the techniques of earthbag building to Europe, and in fact she wrote the first book on the topic: Building with Earth (Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2001).

I met Paulina in 2011 when I attended one of her Earthbag Dome workshops in a wood in southern England.  I was so impressed and inspired by Paulina and the art and science of earthbag building!  I used many of the skills and ideas from that workshop to create the design of my own rice-husk-bag buildings.

Paulina and I corresponded and met a few times over the next few years, and coming to Thailand to run a workshop was high on our agenda.  Finally, in 2014, everything came together and the workshop happened here in Chiang Dao, at Chiang Dao Roundhouses!

There was a fair bit of preparation to be done.  First we prepared the foundation.  In a non-termite area, one may not need to have a concrete base, but here, we need it!

Preparing the foundations for the Earthbag Dome.

Preparing the foundations for the Earthbag Dome.

A dozen people arrived to take the workshop in February 2014, many from freezing temperatures in Europe.  It was cold in the mornings here too, and at night, which surprised most people, but they enjoyed sitting round an open fire in the garden!  By 10 am. the sun was shining fiercely and the temperature rapidly rising.  Here we are on the first day, enjoying the sun, and putting into place the first filled bag!

The first bag filled with gravel takes its place on the prepared foundation.

The first bag filled with gravel takes its place on the prepared foundation.

For the first layer, the bags are filled with gravel, and the second layer with sand.  This is in case there is any water around, monsoons, floods or burst pipes perhaps.  The water would just pass through and out the other side and the earth bags above would be unaffected.

The third layer is the first of the earth filled bags.  In the next picture you can see the group is up to the fifth layer.  Keeping the wall of bags uniform is a rotating compass made from pipe, hose clamps, and a shelf bracket, which worked extraordinarily well.

Using the compass to keep the walls uniform.

Using the compass to keep the walls uniform.

The earth was brought in on trucks, and had been sitting around for a few weeks.  Due to the heat it was very dry.  Some water had to be mixed in with it, before it went into the bags.

Filling a bag with earth that has been mixed with just a little water.

Filling a bag with earth that has been mixed with just a little water.

The doorway was to be in the shape of a pointed arch.  We made a frame of wood and placed it where the doorway was to go, and then made bags that were wedge shaped to fit around it.

Making wedge shaped bags to go around the arched doorway.

Making wedge shaped bags to go around the arched doorway.

Notice in the picture above that the bags on the unfinished top row are kind of squashy.  Once a row is finished it is tamped to make it flat, and then bamboo stakes are nailed into each bag to fasten it to the one below.

Ajarn (teacher) Paulina giving instruction, as the dome gets higher.

Ajarn (teacher) Paulina giving instruction, as the dome gets higher.

It’s hot work building a dome!  Here’s how we cooled off…

Having fun in our swimming hole!

Having fun in our swimming hole!

And the dome gets higher…  Here you can see tamping in progress.

Tamping a row of earth bags.

Tamping a row of earth bags.

There always has to be someone inside the dome to work the compass.

Compass duty from the inside of the dome.

Compass duty from the inside of the dome.

Although the dome is not complete, it is now time to remove the wood form from the doorway.  Everyone gathers with bated breath – will the earthbag arch collapse??

Removing the wooden form from the doorway.

Removing the wooden form from the doorway.

Amazing!  The arch is perfect and super strong!

Amazing! The arch is perfect and super strong!

Everyone comes into the dome…

Everyone inside the dome!

Everyone inside the dome!

And looking into the dome from above…

Looking in the dome from above.

Looking in the dome from above.

You can see in the picture above the pipes for ventilation.  They are in the bottom of the dome and the top to allow for air circulation and prevent dampness.

And the final bag goes on the top …..

The last bag goes on the top.

The last bag goes on the top.

Ajarn Paulina in front of the beautiful finished dome.

Ajarn Paulina in front of the beautiful finished dome.

Yay!!!

Yay!!!

Thank you all for my wonderful meditation dome!

(And thanks also for your photos!)

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Great Progress!

This dome is almost finished – and people have been staying in it already!  Thanks Antony for the photo.

This dome is almost finished – and people have been staying in it already! Thanks Antony for the photo.

The final finishing touches, smooth plaster on walls, water in the bathrooms etc have not yet been done, but because of our workshops, we rushed to get these ready enough so that participants had somewhere to ‘camp’.

But before we get to the workshops…

Caroline and Muumuu working on the mosaic floor of the Sala (pavilion).  Well, Muumuu is having a bit of a rest…

Caroline and Muumuu working on the mosaic floor of the Sala (pavilion). Well, Muumuu is having a bit of a rest…

And here is the finished mosaic, with Lucy having a bit of a rest….

Lucy snoozing on the cool mosaic floor of the Sala.  Thanks Luz for these photos.

Lucy snoozing on the cool mosaic floor of the Sala. Thanks Luz for these photos.

Our Gaudi Sala in use already!

Our Gaudi Sala in use already!

Back a bit in time, and we have also made two roundhouses, interwoven like a figure of eight.   Not only interwoven, but also on a slope.  It was interesting how the join between the rooms worked out.   Here are the foundations.

Foundations for two roundhouses interwoven: a figure of eight.

Foundations for two roundhouses interwoven: a figure of eight.

Note in the picture below that there is a cement block wall in the lower roundhouse.  That is a bathroom, and in the following picture you can see that we have made a bottle decoration to bring light inside.

Roof for shade goes up before walls.

Roof for shade goes up before walls.

Almost finished!

Almost finished!

The inside steps joining the two circles.

Working on the steps joining the two circles.

Working on the steps joining the two circles.

Bottle decoration for the bathroom wall.

Bottle decoration for the bathroom wall.

The bottle decoration was repeated on the opposite wall of the lower circle.

The other side of our adjoining roundhouses showing bottle decoration in the wall.

The other side of our adjoining roundhouses showing bottle decoration in the wall.

As you can see, these roundhouses are also already in use, and in front of them is our fire – a necessity as the temperature in the early morning dropped down to 10°C in the middle of winter!  This is where we had our breakfast, and our dinner during the workshops.

Cosy and warm round the fire at night.  Thanks Emma for the photo.

Cosy and warm round the fire at night. Thanks Emma for the photo.

Next week pictures from our workshops!