Earth Chapel in the Hollywood Hills

Naturalwalls is close to the completion of a project in the hills that we are quite proud of.  Scott Nelson was commissioned to design and build a “super adobe” structure for an adventurous and artistic friend who was looking for a way to construct a unique backyard studio.  It was decided to use the system of earth building developed by architect and Rumi scholar Nadir Kahlili of Cal Earth.  The beauty of this system lies in its primary use of earth as a construction material to create an incredibly strong, energy efficient, earth connected building.  Imagine how many trees and how much energy could be saved if we built this way more often!


The site being prepared for building.


A retaining wall and french drain were constructed with the same system.  We figure that this method used at least 90% less cement than a poured wall would have required.


Scott chose to employ Burlap canvas as the material for the earth bags.  An industrial sewing machine in the Naturalwalls studio was used to sew one side of a long roll of material together with heavy duty thread.  The natural surface of the fabric will provide a perfect key for the plaster to adhere to later.  Here’s the one and only Ivan B. Love, super adobe builder extraordinaire beginning to lay the earth filled tubes.


The basis of the chapel structure is a “lancet arch” shape which is known for its self-supporting symmetry.  The forces of the building are equalized in all directions which gives the structure its strength and removes the need for wood or steel framing elements. Here we are measuring out the radius of a 12′ circle which will become the floor area of the room.  The pole establishes the center. A dual compass system is used to establish the curve of the walls as each layer of earth bags is added.  Barbed wire is placed horizontally between each layer to act as a tension ring around the perimeter of the building.


The foundational layers of bags are visible here with the door form sitting on the grade level.  The sub-grade interior of the structure is filled with gravel to prevent any water seepage up into the room from underground.


The walls continue to grow until the window level is reached at which point the window forms are added.  These will later be removed and the actual windows installed.


During this time the windows and doors are being constructed by a master carpenter from reclaimed timber.


The layers of burlap and earth are now running over the window forms as the curve continues inward to the peak.


After the walls have been raised to their final height leaving room for a 6′ skylight in the ceiling, the window and door forms are removed.


Master plasterer Jesus Segovia Cabral and his famous grin.


The first layer of Natural Hydraulic Lime plaster from St. Astier is applied.  NHL provides much better thermal properties and elasticity than cement helping this structure to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.


The front door and windows installed.  The structure to the right of the door is a buttress that provides strength for the door opening.


Three layers of NHL and three coats of natural lime paint later.  We saturated the exterior with a natural silicate sealer creating a waterproof, yet vapor permeable finish.




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