Earthbag Construction

Make durable buildings from the dirt in your yard using earthbag construction.

| October/November 2005

You can build a magnificent shelter with a couple of rolls of barbed wire, a bale of bags, a shovel and nothing more than the earth beneath your feet. This is the premise that inspired the imagination of visionary architect Nader Khalili when he conceived the idea of “sandbag architecture.” In his quest to seek solutions to social dilemmas such as affordable housing and environmental degradation, Khalili drew on his skills as a contemporary architect while exercising the ingenuity of his native cultural heritage; earthen architecture is common in his homeland, Iran, and throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Mediterranean.

According to many building professionals and environmental groups, earthen buildings currently house more than one-third of the world’s population. Thousands of years ago, people discovered and utilized the principles of arch and dome construction. By applying this ancient structural technology, combined with a few modern-day materials, Khalili has cultivated a dynamic, contemporary form of earthen architecture that we simply call “earthbag building.” He teaches this technique at the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture in Hesperia.

Simplicity and Beauty

Earthbag construction uses earth as the primary structural element, and it helps create curvaceous, sensual architecture while providing structural integrity. Earthbag structures can be monolithic, meaning that an entire structure is built from foundation to walls to roof using the same materials and methods throughout. Corbelled earthbag domes (bags laid horizontally and stair-stepped up to form the dome) foster simplicity and beauty. Earthbag domes designed with arch openings can eliminate 95 percent of the lumber used to build the average stick-frame house.

Earthbag building utilizes the ancient technique of rammed earth in conjunction with modern woven polypropylene bags as a flexible form. The basic procedure is simple:

Fill the bags using suitable pre-moistened earth.
Close, fold and pin the bags to make neat square-cornered rectangles similar to grocery-store brown bags.
Lay the finished bags in a masonry-style running bond.
Thoroughly compact with hand tampers after a row has been laid.
Lay two strands of four-point barbed wire, pushed down with bricks, between every row. This acts as a “Velcro mortar,” cinching the bags in place and providing exceptional tensile strength (resistance to lengthwise stress) while allowing the rows to be stepped, creating domes and other unusual shapes.
Apply exterior and interior plasters.

9/3/2017 1:38:16 PM

i am an 80 year old gentleman, moving to baja CA, mexico. i will build my honey a hacienda. currently living in san ysidro CA. INTERESTED IN WORK SHOPS . i need a mentor. or call 619 8744491. all help appreciated. be well.

hudaibi tahir_2
3/17/2010 6:54:18 AM

hi iam a sudanese arhitect living in portsudan city near red sea,i understad all about earthbag construction,the type of earth in my city is salt-earth no clay in my area and because of damp climate the earth contain sulpharic acid is that suitible for building using earthbag thank u

8/31/2009 11:17:06 AM

THe book Earthbag Building is wonderful and full of very much information. I just read through it yesterday for the first time. The authors also have on their website (, a page for WOrkshops. If you click on that page and scroll down to last item on page you can go to information on how to HOST an Earthbag Building Workshop for building your building. This is what I am now planning to do. Other people can pay to attend this workshop and help you build your building! BLESSINGS TO ALL. The world is becoming filled with positively wonderful earthbag dwellings.

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