Friday, May 16, 2008

Innerspace: Sandbag Prototype

The global need for housing includes millions refugees and displaced persons – victims of natural disasters and wars. Iranian architect Nader Khalili believes that this need can be addressed only by using the potential of earth construction.

After extensive research into vernacular earth building methods in Iran, followed by detailed prototyping, he has developed the sandbag or ‘superadobe’ system. The basic construction technique involves filling sandbags with earth and laying them in courses in a circular plan. The circular courses are corbelled near the top to form a dome. Barbed wire is laid between courses to prevent the sandbags from shifting and to provide earthquake resistance. Hence the materials of war – sandbags and barbed wire – are used for peaceful ends, integrating traditional earth architecture with contemporary global safety requirements.

The system employs the timeless forms of arches, domes and vaults to create single and double-curvature shell structures that are both strong and aesthetically pleasing. While these load-bearing or compression forms refer to the ancient mudbrick architecture of the Middle East, the use of barbed wire as a tensile element alludes to the portable tensile structures of nomadic cultures. The result is an extremely safe structure. The addition of barbed wire to the compression structures creates earthquake resistance; the aerodynamic form resists hurricanes; the use of sandbags aids flood resistance; and the earth itself provides insulation and fireproofing.

Several design prototypes of domes and vaults were built and tested. The system is particularly suitable for providing temporary shelter because it is cheap and allows buildings to be quickly erected by hand by the occupants themselves with a minimum of training. The shelters focus on the economic empowerment of people by participation in the creation of their own homes and communities.

No comments: