Tucson Tortolita Eco Village

TTEV Vision
Eco Building
Contact Us

Envision Tucson Sustainable Festival
Envision Tucson Sustainable Festival
October 7


Eco Building Visions

Do not turn your back on or ignore the future. For like a speeding bus it could ruin your whole day. Instead embrace it like a lover, with whom you are well pleased to greet.

We do not know what the future will bring to our planet, but whether doom and gloom or a bright new beginning we would do well to take a look at possibilities. Plan for the worse and live for the best.

Approved Building Methods

This is not a bible of what we are looking for, allow, or need. It is simply flavor of or a look at what we would consider as welcome to our Eco Village. There is a mechanism or process to go through when looking to purchase a lot and build in our community. It is not an arduous process and is really just designed so that both you and our members are comfortable with what is transpiring in this impending relationship with our community.

Clearly, in a “Beyond Sustainable Eco Village” that has a green flavor to it there are certain ideas that dictate what we are aspiring to become. This is a lush desert and stick built or wooden frame homes are not particularly appropriate here.

You can try and convince the Board that your project is different and that is why we do not ever start with a "no you can’t do that" attitude. You must convince us! So rather than dwell on the negatives, let us look at what we are likely to be impressed and inspired by.

Quick Links

Adobe - Superadobe - Rammed Earth - Underground
Monolith Concrete - Earth Sheltered & Earth Bermed
Cob (earth and straw) - Poured earth - Earthbag (sandbag)
Cordwood - Earthships - Papercrete - Lightweight concrete
Straw-bale - Hybrids - Deck Homes - Permaculture - Domes


This is from page one of this website http://www.adobebuilder.com/ It is a good enough place to start if this is of interest to you.

Welcome! You're here because of your interest in building and owning an earth-wall home. Your questions probably center around, "will it work in my climate? ", "can I do it? ", "how do I begin? " or "how much will it cost? " This site exists to answer these questions and to get you started. Here are the main considerations...

THE CODES...Adobe is defined in the current International Building Codes, used across the United States. Individual states, such as New Mexico, Arizona and California, modify this code to fit their building practices. Pressed Block and Rammed Earth are generally included in these codes, which can also be modified by individual counties and cities. Adobe was often a ‘sleeper’ in previous codes, but with the new interest in green building, bureaucrats and legislators are eager to bring it forward and work is underway to write it into ASTM standards.

So yes, you can do it, legally speaking. In areas without codes, you have more freedom, but you should still build to a recognized standard. If your building department has little experience with earth walls, they may require that your plans be stamped by a licensed engineer or architect. In many areas of the Southwest, prescribed codes allow you to build to a standard, without a professional stamp. This is the case in Arizona and New Mexico, and portions of Utah, and Colorado. At present, Texas has few restrictive codes, and California, the most restrictions.


This is from the following website where you can see pictures and learn more. http://calearth.org

Superadobe (sandbag and barbed wire) technology is a large, long adobe. It is a simple adobe, an instant and flexible line generator. It uses the materials of war for peaceful ends, integrating traditional earth architecture with contemporary global safety requirements.

Eco Dome

Long or short sandbags are filled with on-site earth and arranged in layers or long coils (compression) with strands of barbed wire placed between them to act as both mortar and reinforcement (tension). Stabilizers such as cement, lime, or asphalt emulsion may be added. This patented and trademarked (U.S. patent #5,934,027, #3,195,445) technology is offered free to the needy of the world, and licensed for commercial use.

This concept was originally presented by architect Nader Khalili to NASA for building habitats on the moon and Mars, as “Velcro-adobe”. It comes from years of meditation, hands-on research and development, and searching for simple answers to build with earth. It comes from the concerned heart of someone who did not want to be bound to any one system of construction and looked for only one answer in human shelter, to simplify.

Cal-Earth believes that the whole family should be able to build together, men and women, from grandma to the youngest child. As such, we have spent many years researching hands-on how to make the process simpler and easier. There should be no heavy lifting or backaches, no expensive equipment, and a flexible and fast construction. The bags are filled in place on the wall using small pots like coffee cans, or even kitchen utensils. You can build alone or as a group.

The structural principles of the timeless forms of arches, domes, vaults, and apses are built with the materials of earth, sandbags and barbed wire using the engineering of single and double curvature compression shell structures, to reach the ultimate in strength, self-help, and aesthetics. In Superadobe, the ancient earth architecture of the Middle East using sun-dried mud bricks is fused with its portable nomadic culture of fabrics and tensile elements, not just through design and pattern, but through the structure itself. Structural design uses modern engineering concepts like base-isolation and post-tensioning. The innovation of barbed wire adds the tensile element to the traditional earthen structures, creating earthquake resistance despite the earth’s low shear strength. The aerodynamic forms resist hurricanes. The innovation of sandbags adds flood resistance, and easy construction, while the earth itself provides insulation and fire-proofing.

The Superadobe can be coiled into vaults and domes, the way a potter coils a pot, with barbed wire reinforcement, to build structures which pass California’s earthquake codes. These structures can last for one season before returning to earth, or they can be stabilized, waterproofed, and finished as permanent houses. The system can be used for structural arches, domes and vaults, or conventional rectilinear shapes. The same method can build silos, clinics, schools, landscaping elements, or infrastructure like dams, cisterns, roads, bridges, and for stabilizing shorelines and watercourses.

Materials research on the bags has shown that the majority of existing bags of both natural and synthetic material can be used. Natural woven jute bags have not been used by the architect because of toxic chemical preservatives like formaldehyde; instead, a synthetic, low UV (ultra-violet) resistant degradable material has been preferred. The bags or long tubes are used primarily as temporary flexible forms. In a temporary building, the bags are allowed to degrade and the building returns to earth. For permanent structures, the synthetic bags are plastered over to provide an erosion resisting layer, or they can be removed when the stabilized earthen filler is cured. The barbed wire is four-point, two strand, galvanized barbed wire and is recyclable. The earthen materials of clay and sand, with straw and water which have been used to make traditional sun-dried mud-bricks for millennia are not always available, nor do those most in need of a home have the time to make blocks, dry them and store them. By filling bags directly from the land and reinforcing with barbed wire, almost any earth can be used and the speed of building is much faster yet still in the hands of people.

Safety Standards and Comfort. Cal-Earth’s sandbag structures, reinforced with barbed wire, have successfully passed tests for California’s high seismic building codes, making them resistant to earthquakes as well as fire, flood, and hurricanes. Their design and thermal mass create comfortable living spaces based on the time-tested, sustainable architecture of harsh environments, such as that in the architect’s native Iran.

“Superadobe is an adobe that is stretched from history into the new century. It is like an umbilical cord connecting the traditional with the future adobe world.” –Nader Khalili

Rammed Earth

From Wikipedia - Rammed earth, also known as taipa (Portuguese), tapial (Spanish), pisé de terre or simply pisé (French), is a technique used in the building of walls using the raw materials of earth, chalk, lime and gravel. It is an ancient building method that has seen a revival in recent years as people seek more sustainable building materials and natural building methods. Rammed earth walls are simple to construct, incombustible, thermally massive, very strong and durable. Conversely they can be labour-intensive to construct without machinery (powered rammers), and if improperly protected or maintained they are susceptible to water damage. Traditionally, rammed earth buildings are found on every continent (Antarctica excepted), from the temperate and wet regions of northern Europe to semi-dry deserts, mountain areas and the tropics. The availability of useful soil and a building design appropriate for local climatic conditions are the factors which favour its use.

Building a rammed earth wall involves a process of compressing a damp mixture of earth that has suitable proportions of sand, gravel and clay (sometimes with an added stabilizer) into an externally supported frame, creating a solid wall of earth. Historically, stabilizers such as lime or animal blood were used to stabilize the material, whilst modern rammed earth construction uses lime, cement or asphalt emulsions. Some modern builders also add coloured oxides or other items such as bottles or pieces of timber to add variety to the structure.

A temporary frame (formwork) is first built, usually out of wood or plywood, to act as a mold for desired shape and dimensions of each wall section. The frames must be sturdy and well braced, and the two opposing wall faces clamped together, to prevent bulging or deformation from the high compression forces involved. Damp material is poured in to a depth of between 10 to 25 cm (4 to 10 in), and compressed to around 50% of its original height. The compression of material is done iteratively in batches, to gradually build up the wall to the required height dictated by the top of the frame. Compression was historically done by hand with a long ramming pole, and was very labor-intensive. Modern construction can be more efficient by employing pneumatically powered tampers.

Once the wall is complete, it is strong enough that the frames can be immediately removed. This is necessary if a surface texture (e.g. by wire brushing) is desired, since walls become too hard to work after about an hour. The walls are best constructed in warm weather so that they can dry and harden. Walls take some time to dry out completely, and may take up to two years to completely cure. Compression strength increases with increased curing time, and exposed walls should be sealed to prevent water damage. In modern variations of the method, rammed earth walls are constructed on top of conventional footings or a reinforced concrete slab base.

Underground Homes

Underground homes or earth-sheltered homes as some call them lie mostly beneath the ground's surface. These houses are inexpensive to heat and cool since the surrounding soil acts as natural insulation. Those who design underground homes have come up with several methods for regulating the temperature.

Underground homes (at least some) depend entirely upon the insulation provided by the soil surrounding walls and floors. Others, however, have tubes channeled through them to bring in fresh air. Still others use a heat pump to regulate temperatures.

Most underground homes are made of concrete and one can expect to pay 10-percent more for construction of these earth-sheltered homes than a typical home. Enthusiasts say, though, that at least 10-percent or more is saved from lower maintenance and energy costs. Underground homes are not suitable, though for northern, permafrost regions.

The U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) agrees with the energy savings of underground, earth-sheltered homes saying, "If you are looking for a home with many energy-efficient features that will provide a comfortable, tranquil, weather-resistant atmosphere, an earth-sheltered house could be right for you."

The DOE differentiates between underground homes, which are almost completely underground and earth-bermed homes which may have one or two sides exposed, "A bermed earth-sheltered house may be built above grade or partially below grade, with outside earth surrounding one or more walls. Such a structure can accommodate more conventional earth-sheltered house designs, such as elevational and penetrational."

Some other advantages of underground homes are lower insurance premiums, natural sound insulation, less susceptibility to fire, high winds, hailstorms and tornadoes to name a few. Privacy is another issue stated by underground home enthusiasts, which lured them to build below the surface.

No matter whether you're a fan of underground or earth-bermed homes, we have something for you on this site. If you keep checking back we may even surprise you with a few things you hadn't anticipated as well. And, we promise not to keep this information underground. Did I mention that we're heavy into humor around here... I know a few of you who will dig that. Oh, the humanity!

Monolith Concrete

The following is from the website www.monolithic.com and here is info about this concept.

What are Monolithic Domes... They are super structures!

Monolithic Domes are constructed following a method that requires a tough, inflatable Airform, steel-reinforced concrete and a polyurethane foam insulation. Each of these ingredients is used in a technologically specific way.

Our domes can be designed to fit any architectural need: homes, cabins, churches, schools, gymnasiums, arenas and stadiums, bulk storage, landlord dwellings and various other privately or publicly owned facilities.

Monolithic Domes meet FEMA standards for providing near-absolute protection and have a proven ability to survive tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, most manmade disasters, fire, termites and rot.

They are cost-efficient, earth-friendly, extremely durable and easily maintained. Most importantly, a Monolithic Dome uses about 50% less energy for heating and cooling than a same-size, conventionally constructed building.

Beginning in 1970, Monolithic Domes have been built and are in use in virtually every American state and in Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.

Monolithic Domes are neither restricted by climate nor by site location. In terms of energy consumption, durability, disaster resistance and maintenance, Monolithic Domes perform well in any climate, even extremely hot or cold ones. And they can be constructed on virtually any site: in the mountains, on beaches, even underground or underwater.

Earth Sheltered, Earth Berm and Underground Homes

Earth sheltered homes became popular in the 1970's when energy efficient homes were in great demand but they have been around for centuries. The primary advantages of an underground home are the energy savings and superior protection from some of nature's fiercest elements. (These earth contact homes are billed as hurricane and tornado proof but not completely disaster proof.) Another big plus for earth sheltered or underground homes is that they are very earth friendly if built properly. Earth berm houses are some of the most environmentally or eco friendly homes on the market. On May 14th 1974, Malcolm Wells came up with "Underground America Day" and it has been celebrated every year since.

A commonly voiced issue concerning this style of architecture is finding an underground house contractor. Below are some great resources for earth friendly sheltered living and green home contractors.

Surplus of Energy in an Earth Sheltered Home http://earthshelters.com/

To date, a number of homes around the world have actually achieved full annual heat storage. That is, they collect absolutely every drop of heating and cooling energy that the homes need through long cold winters, long hot summers and the rest of the year too. They don't just reduce energy consumption, they provide a surplus of energy that is used to provide partial domestic water heating, and provide natural power to run fresh air, heat recovery, and ventilation systems.

This information is being provided to promote the spreading of PAHS homes, to promote energy conservation on a higher plane than is usually done, and to direct people toward the information needed to produce real and positive results. Armed with a knowledge of annual heat storage principles, you will be able to have a part in advancing the technology, and share in overcoming practical building challenges. Make good use of our easy access to publications, videos, and plans, and be brought up to speed on PAHS technology so that all may be benefited!


As the cost of living increases, people everywhere are rethinking their needs for affordable ways to live. Many homes become huge financial burdens. A beautiful Earth Sheltered Home can be affordable to build and to maintain, working in sync with the environment. That’s “green" - building in support of the natural environment. That’s sustainable living.

Our monolithically-poured system of walls and ceilings is not only sustainable, but it is stronger and more cost-effective than any other green building system, including wood-frame, steel-frame, ICF, cinder block, tilt-wall, or poured-walls.


The following information is from the website http://www.greenhomebuilding.com/ Please check that site for pictures and further information as well as great links, videos, books, and vendors

Cob is a very old method of building with earth and straw or other fibers. It is quite similar to adobe in that the basic mix of clay and sand is the same, but it usually has a higher percentage of long straw fibers mixed in. Instead of creating uniform blocks to build with, cob is normally applied by hand in large gobs (or cobs) which can be tossed from one person to another during the building process. The traditional way of mixing the clay/sand/straw is with the bare feet; for this reason, it is fairly labor intensive. Some of the process can be mechanized by using a backhoe to do the mixing, but that diminishes the organic nature of it. Because of all the straw, cob can be slightly more insulating than adobe, but it still would not make a very comfortable house in a climate of extreme temperatures. The wonderful thing about cob construction is that it can be a wildly freeform, sculptural affair. I've seen some very charming homes made this way. Cob was a common building material in England in the nineteenth century, and many of those buildings are still standing.

A variant of cob is what is commonly called "light straw/clay". This is made with the same long fibers of straw which is tossed like spaghetti with a sauce of clay slip. The idea is to coat the straw fibers with enough of the clay to get them to stick together, but not so much that it makes a gummy clump. This material is then tamped into a form and left to set up enough to remove the form. Light straw walls could be useful for interior partitions and even exterior walls if it is thick enough. Such walls would be quite a bit more insulating than cob, but they require a timber frame of some sort because the straw itself would not be load bearing.

Poured earth

Poured earth is similar to ordinary concrete, in that it is mixed and formed like concrete and uses Portland cement as a binder. The main difference is that instead of the sand/gravel used as an aggregate in concrete, poured earth uses ordinary soil (although this soil needs to meet certain specifications) and generally uses less Portland cement. Poured earth could be considered a "moderate strength concrete." Little to no maintenance is required of poured earth walls, since they have a high resistance to the deteriorating effects of water and sun.

Ideal soil is basically low in clay (something ranging between silt to 3/8 inch aggregate). Poured earth materials need to meet certifiable engineering standards; appropriate testing needs to be done to assure a quality product. Testing should be done to determine shrinkage and compressive strength in order to make sure that the mix has very little, to no, shrinkage and has a compressive strength of 800-1200 psi. On-site soil can be amended with off-site materials so that they meet appropriate strength and durability standards. When natural or synthetic fly ash and lime is added to the poured earth mixture, the amount of Portland cement required can be reduced by up to 50%. Magnesium oxide can also be used to help further reduce the use of Portland cement.

Since poured earth is similar to concrete, local suppliers can provide the product which can then be pumped using traditional concrete pump trucks. Standard concrete forms can be used in preparation for the pour.

It is possible to incorporate rigid insulation within a poured earth wall, so that there is a thermal break between the exterior and the interior, thus allowing the interior portion of the wall to serve as appropriate thermal mass for the building.

Generally, poured earth walls increase the overall cost of construction by 10% - 20%, mainly because of the custom nature of the process. When more homes are built, then the economy of scale should make this method competitive with traditional building.

Michael Frerking's website (Living Systems Sustainable Architecture) has much more information about Poured Earth.

Soil Cement

A variation of poured earth that has been around since cement was first formulated is soil cement. This is a dry pack (moist) earth/cement mixture which works especially well with rather sandy soil, but will also work with other soil types. The heavier soils with more clay content will probably require more portland cement. Soil cement has been used to form walls, make floors, pave roads, stabilize river banks, etc.

Here is some information about formulas: Make it by mixing earth with Portland cement to the desired depth, add water and mix again. Tamp, and cover with plastic to let it cure properly. Use 6 to 16 percent cement by volume according to the density of the soil. The denser the soil (clay, for instance), the higher percentage of cement to use. Six percent translates to 1 part cement to 15 parts soil; 16 percent translates to 1 part cement to 6 parts soil.


Building with earthbags (sandbags) is both old and new. Sandbags have long been used, particularly by the military for creating strong, protective barriers, or for flood control. The same reasons that make them useful for these applications carry over to creating housing: the walls are massive and substantial, they resist all kinds of severe weather (or even bullets and bombs), and they can be erected simply and quickly with readily available components. Burlap bags were traditionally used for this purpose, and they work fine until they eventually rot. Newer polypropylene bags have superior strength and durability, as long as they are kept away from too much sunlight. For permanent housing the bags should be covered with some kind of plaster for protection.

There has been a resurgence of interest in earthbag building since architect Nader Khalili, of the Cal-Earth Institute, began experimenting with bags of adobe soil as building blocks for creating domes, vaults and arches. Khalili was familiar with Middle Eastern architecture and the use of adobe bricks in building these forms, so it was natural for him to imagine building in this way. The Cal-Earth Institute has been training people with his particular techniques, and now the whole field has expanded considerably with further experimentation by his students and others.

I have taken Khalili's ideas of building with earthbags that are laid in courses with barbed wire between them, and come up with some hybrid concepts that have proven to make viable housing. Instead of filling the bags with adobe soil, I have used crushed volcanic rock. This creates a very well insulated wall (about as good as strawbale) that will never rot or be damaged by moisture. As a covering for the earthbags I used papercrete (see the papercrete page). This seems to be a very good solution to the need to seal the bags from the sun and the weather, without necessarily creating a vapor barrier...the walls remain breathable. Papercrete may not be a good choice in warm and humid climates, however, because mold could form on it.

Here is an example of earth bag home local enthusiasts built. They maintain an extensive blog Earth Bag Building Blog and youtube earthbagwebsite mylittlehomestead (defaults to the video here).



Cordwood construction utilizes short, round pieces of wood, similar to what would normally be considered firewood. For this reason this method of building can be very resource efficient, since it makes use of wood that might not have much other value. Cordwood building can also create a wall that has both properties of insulation and thermal mass. The mass comes from the masonry mortar that is used to cement the logs together, and the insulation comes from the wood itself and the central cavity between the inside and outside mortars. Like strawbale walls, many building authorities require a post and beam or similar supporting structure and then using cordwood as an infill, even though the cordwood method creates a very strong wall that could support a considerable load.

This method produces a look that is both rustic and beautiful. The process of building is similar to laying rocks in mortar, where the the logs are aligned with their ends sticking out to create the surface of the wall and mortar is applied adjacent to each end of the log. Typically the logs are not coated with a moisture barrier, but are allowed to breath naturally. It is possible to include other materials into the matrix, such as bottle ends that would provide light to enter the wall.

Recent experiments with the use of cob instead of cement mortar to join the logs have been encouraging and this method may provide a somewhat more ecological approach to cordwood building. In this case special care should be taken to have large eaves to keep water away from the wall.

After studying the wide array of "natural building" techniques for several years, I have come to accept cordwood as one of the greenest of all: it uses what is often considered a waste material, creates an insulated wall that requires no further finishing or maintenance over time, and can be done by relative novices...what more could you want?


The Earthship concept is the brainchild of Michael Reynolds, who has written several books on the topic. Near Taos New Mexico, where he has his Earthship Biotecture business, are whole communities of earthships. The basic earthship design incorporates substantially bermed, passive solar architecture. The primary retaining walls are constructed with used tires, filled with earth and stacked up like bricks.

The interior surface of the tires is then plastered with adobe or cement so the tires don't normally show. Mike has also pioneered the use of empty aluminum cans mortared into lightweight, curvable walls. Earthships often employ many ecological concepts, such as water catchment from the roof, reuse of greywater, composting toilets, indoor gardening, etc.

While some of the work of building is simple to do, it also tends to be very labor intensive. Furthermore, the wood framing required is not simple. Some of the earlier designs tend to overheat, especially in the summer, because of the slanted glass to the south. I have seen some truly elegant earthships, along with some that are pretty funky. Engineered plans are available that seem to please building inspectors, as these have been built in many localities.


Papercrete is a fairly new ingredient in the natural building world. It is basically re-pulped paper fiber with portland cement or clay and/or other dirt added. When cement is added, this material is not as "green" as would be ideal, but the relatively small amount of cement is perhaps a reasonable tradeoff for what papercrete can offer. I have had a fair amount of experience with this stuff, and I would say that is has some remarkable properties. Care must be taken to utilize it properly, or you could be courting disaster. I am acquainted with both Eric Patterson and Mike McCain, who independently "invented" papercrete (they called it "padobe" and "fibrous cement") and they have both contributed considerably to the machinery to make it and the ways of using it for building.

The paper to be used can come from a variety of sources and is usually free. I've used newspaper, junk mail, magazines, books, etc., which I get from our local dump or from the waste bin at our post office. Depending on the type of mixer that is used to make pulp out of it, the paper might be soaked in water beforehand or not. My first mixer used a small electric motor mounted directly to a shaft with a couple of four inch square blades on it, rather like a milk shake maker. This shaft was suspended in a plastic 55 gallon drum where the mixing took place. After a year of making small batches with this, I graduated to a "tow mixer" designed by Mike McCain. I consider this to be the Cadillac of mixers because using it is so

It is basically a trailer made from the rear end of a car, with the part that would attach to the drive shaft sticking upward and a lawn mower blade attached to it. The blade is surrounded by a large stock watering tank where the mixing occurs. There is a baffle on the side of the tank to force the slurry back into the blade as it circulates. With this mixer (which I tow behind my Volvo station wagon) I can make three or four wheel barrows full of thick papercrete in about twenty minutes. I simply fill the tank nearly full of water, add about one wheel barrow full of dry paper, one sack of portland cement, and perhaps some sand, depending on how I plan to use the mix. Then I drive slowly around the block, back over a drain box with 1/8 inch mesh on the bottom, and dump the slurry into the box via a drain hole in the bottom of the tank. After about a half hour of draining the excess water from the slurry, the papercrete is like soft, workable clay, but not nearly as messy. This is the material that I used to plaster both the inside and outside of my earthbag house.

The slurry can just as easily be pumped or dumped into forms to set up that way. Eric Patterson makes adobe brick sized blocks of papercrete to build with, and mortars them together with a slurry of the same stuff. Mike McCain prefers to either pump the slurry into slip forms or make larger blocks for building. The addition of mineral material (sand, adobe, etc.) has the advantage of minimizing the shrinkage as it cures, making the final product more durable and fire proof, at the expense of slightly less insulating value and more weight.

Cured papercrete acts like a sponge unless it is coated with something to stop the entry of water. In my earthbag/papercrete house I have allowed the papercrete to breath fully, so that it absorbs an enormous amount of water when it rains. This is not a problem for me because there is nothing in the wall that would be damaged by water, even if it got past the papercrete layer, which it rarely or never does. It is a whole new concept for a roof: a sponge that welcomes the moisture, and then simply give it back to the atmosphere through evaporation. I have had large cracks (up to about 1/2 inch wide) in the initial layer of papercrete on the earthbags, and still have not seen any water getting through into the house.

Other properties of papercrete are:
1) It is dimensionally very stable both through the process of taking in moisture and drying out and in a wide range of temperatures.
2) It will hold fasteners to some extent, especially screws, without cracking.
3) It is highly insulating (about R-2 1/2 per inch).
4) It does not support flames, but will smolder for days if it does catch fire. The more cement and mineral material that is added to the mix, the more fire proof it becomes.
5) It will support molds if it remains warm and moist for too long.
6) It will wick moisture from the ground into the wall if it buried in dirt.
7) It becomes soft and will deteriorate if kept damp (especially underground) for too long.
8) It resists rodent and insect infestation.

Paper adobe is similar to papercrete, but instead of cement used to bind the paper fiber into a solid, clay is used as the binder. This can work well if the material is kept absolutely dry; otherwise it will become soft and could deform.

Lightweight concrete

Lightweight concrete, weighing from 35 to 115 pound per cubic foot, has been used in the United States for more than 50 years. The compressive strength is not as great as ordinary concrete, but it weathers just as well. Among its advantages are less need for structural steel reinforcement, smaller foundation requirements, better fire resistance and most importantly, the fact that it can serve as an insulation material! It can cost more that sand and gravel concrete, and it may shrink more upon drying.

Lightweight concrete may be made by using lightweight aggregates, or by the use of foaming agents, such as aluminum powder, which generates gas while the concrete is still plastic. Natural lightweight aggregates include pumice, scoria, volcanic cinders, tuff, and diatomite. Lightweight aggregate can also be produced by heating clay, shale, slate, diatomaceous shale, perlite, obsidian, and vermiculite. Industrial cinders and blast-furnace slag that has been specially cooled can also be used.

Pumice and scoria are the most widely used of the natural lightweight aggregates. They are porous, froth-like volcanic glass which come in various colors and are found in the Western United States. Concrete made with pumice and scoria aggregate weighs from 90 to 100 pounds per cubic foot.

The rock from which perlite is manufactured has a structure resembling tiny pearls and when it is heated it expands and breaks into small expanded particles the size of sand. Concrete made with expanded perlite weighs between 50 to 80 pounds per cubic foot and is a very good insulating material.

Vermiculite comes from biotite and other micas. It is found in California, Colorado, Montana, and North and South Carolina. When heated, vermiculite expands and becomes a fluffy mass, which may be 30 times the size of the material before heating! It is a very good insulating material and is used extensively for that purpose. Concrete made with expanded vermiculite aggregate weighs from 35 to 75 pounds per cubic foot.

Concrete made with expanded shale and clay is about as strong as ordinary concrete, but its insulation value is about four times better. Pumice, scoria, and some expanded slags produce a concrete of intermediate strength, but with even more impressive value as insulation. Perlite, vermiculite, and diatomite produce a concrete of very low strength, but with superior insulation properties; however these are subject to greater shrinkage. All of these kinds of lightweight concretes can be sawn to some extent, and they will hold fasteners, especially screws.

Lightweight aggregate should be wetted 24 hours before use. It is generally necessary to mix lightweight concrete for longer periods than conventional concrete to assure proper mixing and it should be cured by covering it with damp sand or by using a soaker hose.

The master sculptor/builder who created all of the images in this section is Steve Kornher, who is now living in Mexico. His website, Flying Concrete , describes more about these pictures, and has many more of these amazingly beautiful designs to be seen. Steve can be reached through his website for consultation. He used an unvitrified aggregate, kind of like perlite, but not manufactured; perhaps called tuff. It comes well graded, fine to 1 1/2", with a few rocks which are tossed out. He screens it a bit when doing shells and adds the coarser stuff when doing walls. Walls are mixed 8 espumilla/ one cement / 1/2 lime. Structural roofs are 5/1/ 1/2 -- 2-3" of this, then 3" or more of 8/1. Then 1/8" sand and cement on top, scratched, the same day so he can easily bond the next coat--polish coat or add more lt. wt. roof fill between vaults 10 / 1 / 1/2. Local blocks made out of the stuff are 10/1 vibrated. A dry, fluffy mix weighs about 75 pounds per cu. ft. He figures that 4" = 2" styrofoam, but he isn't sure.

Straw-bale Homes

From Wikipedia: Straw-bale construction is a building method that uses bales of straw (commonly wheat, rice, rye and oats straw) as structural elements, building insulation, or both. This construction method is commonly used in natural building or "green" construction projects.

Advantages of straw-bale construction over conventional building systems include the renewable nature of straw, cost, easy availability, and high insulation value. Disadvantages include susceptibility to rot and high space requirements for the straw itself.

Straw bale building typically consists of stacking rows of bales (often in running-bond) on a raised footing or foundation, with a moisture barrier or capillary break between the bales and their supporting platform. Bale walls can be tied together with pins of bamboo, or wood (internal to the bales or on their faces), or with surface wire meshes, and then stuccoed or plastered, either with a cement-based mix, lime-based formulation, or earth/clay render. The bales may actually provide the structural support for the building ("load-bearing" or "Nebraska-style" technique), as was the case in the original examples from the late 19th century.

Alternately, bale buildings can have a structural frame of other materials, usually lumber or timber-frame, with bales simply serving as insulation and plaster substrate, ("infill" or "non-loadbearing" technique), which is most often required in northern regions and/or in wet climates. In northern regions, the potential snow-loading can exceed the strength of the bale walls. In wet climates, the imperative for applying a vapor-permeable finish precludes the use of cement-based stucco commonly used on load-bearing bale walls. Additionally, the inclusion of a skeletal framework of wood or metal allows the erection of a roof prior to raising the bales, which can protect the bale wall during construction, when it is the most vulnerable to water damage in all but the most dependably arid climates. A combination of framing and load-bearing techniques may also be employed, referred to as "hybrid" straw bale construction.

Straw bales can also be used as part of a Spar and Membrane Structure (SMS) wall system in which lightly reinforced 2" - 3" [5 cm - 8 cm] gunite or shotcrete skins are interconnected with extended "X" shaped light rebar in the head joints of the bales. In this wall system the concrete skins provide structure, seismic reinforcing, and fireproofing, while the bales are used as leave-in form work and insulation.

Typically "field-bales", bales created on farms with baling machines have been used, but recently higher-density "precompressed" bales (or "straw-blocks") are increasing the loads that may be supported. Field bales might support around 600 pounds per linear foot of wall, but the high density bales bear up to 4,000 lb./lin.ft., and more. The basic bale-building method is now increasingly being extended to bound modules of other oft-recycled materials, including tire-bales, cardboard, paper, plastic, and used carpeting. The technique has also been extended to bags containing "bales" of wood chips or rice hulls. Straw bales have also been used in very energy efficient high performance buildings such as the S-House in Austria which meets the Passivhaus energy standard.


In a sense, virtually all buildings are hybrids of one sort or another. Most modern buildings employ a wide range of materials, some "natural" some not. A strawbale house, for instance, is most likely a hybrid of strawbales and conventional wood framing. Unless the building is a dome or vault, the roof is likely framed with wood or steel. Our domed home is a hybrid of earthbag and papercrete materials. I know of a fine circular home that was minimally framed with 2X4 studs and then strawbales set on their ends provided the insulation.

I am completely in favor of using hybrid building concepts, because it frees the mind to use whatever material or technique is appropriate for any given application or aesthetic. Cob is a wonderful material for creating curved, sensuous forms; adobe and rammed earth are great for thick, fairly straight walls that serve as thermal mass; earthbags can be used for either curved or straight walls that can be either insulation or thermal mass, depending on what they are filled with; strawbales are best used for straight, thick, insulating walls; cordwood construction provides both thermal mass and insulation, and is easiest when forming straight walls; old tires make great retaining walls, or even foundations for other materials; aluminum cans can be mortared into walls of any shape; papercrete is primarily an insulating material that can be used as a plaster, or a structural material and is extremely malleable; rocks provide wonderful thermal mass and can be stacked in a variety of shapes.

I suggest that you take advantage of the materials that can be found nearby that do the job required and appeal to your fancy. If it weren't for building codes, the only rules for how you build would be the laws of physics and mother nature. So, go for it when you can!

Deck Homes

If you live in a place where the weather is generally moderate to good, such as the Sunbelt, you really need more practical outdoor living areas and minimum indoor. After all, southern Arizona gets 300 plus days a year of blue sky and daytime temperatures between 60 and 95 degrees. For this purpose, composite (recycled) decking products like the Trex decking featured here can be an ideal solution. The 900 square foot house is tucked between two levels (in lower right) and has an indoor/outdoor kitchen, bedroom, bonus room (office or additional bedroom) and a great room. It is all you really need to enjoy the outdoors year round and can be modified many ways depending on site, needs, and budget.

Understanding the concept of Permaculture

From Wikipedia - Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that are modeled on the relationships found in natural ecologies.

Permaculture is sustainable land use design. This is based on ecological and biological principles, often using patterns that occur in nature to maximise effect and minimise work. Permaculture aims to create stable, productive systems that provide for human needs, harmoniously integrating the land with its inhabitants. The ecological processes of plants, animals, their nutrient cycles, climatic factors and weather cycles are all part of the picture. Inhabitants’ needs are provided for using proven technologies for food, energy, shelter and infrastructure. Elements in a system are viewed in relationship to other elements, where the outputs of one element become the inputs of another. Within a Permaculture system, work is minimised, "wastes" become resources, productivity and yields increase, and environments are restored. Permaculture principles can be applied to any environment, at any scale from dense urban settlements to individual homes, from farms to entire regions.

The first recorded modern practice of permaculture as a systematic method was by Austrian farmer Sepp Holzer in the 1960s, but the method was scientifically developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and their associates during the 1970s in a series of publications.

The word permaculture is described by Mollison as a portmanteau of permanent agriculture, and permanent culture.

The intent is that, by training individuals in a core set of design principles, those individuals can design their own environments and build increasingly self-sufficient human settlements — ones that reduce society's reliance on industrial systems of production and distribution that Mollison identified as fundamentally and systematically destroying Earth's ecosystems.

While originating as an agro-ecological design theory, permaculture has developed a large international following. This "permaculture community" continues to expand on the original ideas, integrating a range of ideas of alternative culture, through a network of publications, permaculture gardens, intentional communities, training programs, and internet forums. In this way, permaculture has become a form of architecture of nature and ecology as well as an informal institution of alternative social ideals.

This is the concept we are working with in designing the community. Obviously it is simply a suggested blueprint concept that we will have to adapt our goals and practicalities to. Next are some types of building techniques that can be adapted to the overall concept of “Beyond Sustainable” and” Permaculture.


Pacific Domes Intl. offers a variety of sizes and a nearly unlimited number of configuration options. In addition they have partnered with other business and organizations to provide turnkey applications to include aquiculture, bio-energy and more.

Key features include ease of assembly, protection of product or contents, can permit sunlight for plant growth and retain an atmosphere conducive to fast growth in agriculture. See Pacific Domes for more information and ideas.


Sand Bag / Flexible Forms

So what will eco-villages of the future look like? Here is the collective vision of some dreamers as well as some current projects to inspire and make you think. All are possible, even if some are somewhat impractical for various reasons at this current juncture in history. But why not speculate and hope and be inspired.

“To build simple emergency and safe structures in our backyards, to give us maximum safety with minimum environmental impact, we must choose natural materials and, like nature itself, build with minimum materials to create maximum space, like a beehive or a sea shell,” says Nader Khalili the redeveloper of “Super Adobe.” “And from this core an entire village can be built cheaply, easily, and then it can be expanded as needed.”

There are many, many uses and ways that local materials can be used, used in a new way, or re-purposed as housing. This particular technique will definitely be used at “Eco Village #1” eco-village here in Tucson.


Sprayed Concrete

Another interesting possibility is the use of sprayed concrete called a “monolithic pour.” There is a company in Italy, Texas that has been making unique and innovative designs for many years now. They range from the small and relatively inexpensive to the much larger but prepared against anything type. And they can work very well as a ‘village concept” since in one form you can buy the “airform” once and then make many different ones from it, which adds greatly to the economy.

It is easy to see how someone could easily use this technique to build and entire eco village that is safe from just about every type of disaster from natural to man made and this technology is available right now.

Disaster proof arched dome


Wood Framed

If smaller is better than these designs are way better. Far from a shed-like tiny house, this imaginative home that was designed to ‘act like a tree’ won the Solar Decathlon Europe people’s choice award for both looks and sustainability. Created by the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, the Lab House in Madrid has a rounded shape and a roof covered in photovoltaic ‘leaves’ made from the world’s most flexible solar panels. The energy captured by these ‘leaves’ runs down to the ‘roots’ of the house where it’s stored for later use. The surprisingly roomy interior features a large open room that functions as a living room, dining room and extra bedroom. Additional sleeping space is located in a loft.

Tina houses lab house


Some people can be a real square, but while that is not my favorite shape, square can be good. Incredibly simple and easy to build, the first prototype of the Cube Project – known as QB1 – is three meters square, or about 97 square feet. Designed to generate more energy than it uses over the course of a year thanks to a 1.48kW rooftop solar system, QB1 houses a lounge, table, two chairs, double bed, a full-sized shower, a kitchen, a washing machine and a composting toilet. All it needs is grid connection and cold water to operate.

Tiny houses cube house


This next design could technically be called a tree house but it could also be in a cactus grove or even in a flood plain with heavier duty anchors. Hovering over a man-made pond, this incredible ‘treehouse’ on stilts by Baumraum is definitely tiny – there’s barely more than a bed inside, though the large porch does extend the living space to a considerable degree, which would help in temperate climates. But the Baumraum design makes for stunning and unique guest quarters, and could possibly be enlarged just slightly for year-round living.

Tiny house tree house


For those who want the future now here is a prefab eco house that could just do it. This unusual-looking three-story structure is a prefabricated modular house by Broisson Architects of Mexico. Known as Shelter No. 2, the ‘pod’ has sleeping space for three people as well as a kitchen, a reading and living area and a hydroponic garden. The three levels are connected by a central spiral staircase. It was made from 90% recycled materials.

Tiny house prefab pod


Fantasies On The Water

For those near water there are many designs taking that into account from Hurricane proof to riding in the water so let’s take a look at some of them.

The Amphibious Container concept by Richard Moreta is made with reused shipping crates and pallets, resting on a foundation of truck inner tubes which serve as a flotation device in the event of high waters. It can handle a maximum water level of 7.5 feet. It is a good option for costal cities and areas that occasionally get way too much rain, but not a complete disaster.

Disaster proof arch shipping


Harvest City by E. Keven Schopfer is a complex of floating modules measuring 2 miles in diameter, with four zones connected by a linear system of canals. Cables secure the whole complex, which includes a harbor ‘city center’, to the sea bed. Again, this is an unproven but we could do this right now if the will was there.

Disaster proof arch city-Haiti


In another far out there but with technology and know how here to do it this is a highly imaginative design. Architect Vincent Callebaut has an idea: disaster-proof floating housing inspired by coral reefs. The Coral Reef Project consists of 1000 modular residences in dual wavy stacks, supported on an artificial pier built on seismic piles in the Caribbean. With energy harvested from the waves, hydro-turbines and sea thermal energy conversion, the structure improves the standard of living, providing green terraces for each plug-in ‘pod’ and simplifying delivery of supplies.

Floating city


And here is a way out there look at what could be a possibility in the next century, assuming we are relatively intact and survive what is going on now that is. Floating mega-cities are Vincent Callebaut’s specialty, and the Lilypad Floating Ecopolis is an especially beautiful example of imagination run wild. The Lilypad is an amphibious self-sufficient city able to accommodate 50,000 people along with enough plants and animals to sustain them. The lower portion includes a submerged lagoon which filters rainwater.

Floating city


How about some under the water science mixed with a little fantasy that isn’t as far out as one might think. Right here in Tucson area we have Biosphere two learning about this concept. It should come as no surprise that others are looking toward the oceans which cover 70% of our planet. Imagine an entirely self-contained city that could go practically anywhere as the need arose – from floating on the surface of the ocean, to hidden in the depths. Sub Biosphere 2 is a concept for a submerged city featuring eight live/work/farm biomes surrounding a large central biome containing all necessary equipment to keep the city running. Theoretically, with enough notice and supplies, Sub Biosphere 2 – which is also a seed bank – could survive everything from a hurricane to a nuclear war.

Underwater cities biosphere


I personally always like it when we can mimic Mother Nature and here is a design that does just that. Some ocean cities aim not to look like a modern metropolis that has simply been submerged, but like part of the ecosystem of the sea. The beautiful ‘Syph’, a jellyfish-inspired Ocean City concept for Australia, proposes not buildings but ‘organisms’ that each have a specialized task like producing food or housing residents. Designed by Arup Biometrics for the ‘Now + When Australian Urbanism’ competition, this concept has a flowing elegance that’s fitting for its environment.

Underwater cities jellyfish


Here is still another breathtaking design that could house an eco village or self sustaining group of people. Like a combination of the Gyre and Australia’s ‘Syph’, the Water-Scraper is an inverted underwater skyscraper but also employs some stunning biomimicry. Designer Sarly Adre Bin Sarkum of Malaysia says “Its bioluminescent tentacles provide sea fauna a place to live and congregate while collecting energy through its kinetic movements.”

Underwater cities water-scraper


More Interesting Designs

Getting back onto land here are some sustainable designs that are intriguing. The first is from China by Saint Val, an Architect. It is made of the quick growing bamboo that while native to Asia, can easily be grown elsewhere. His design is using bamboo poles and x-shaped metal joints to form the ‘exoskeleton’ of each home. A circular staircase wrapping around the central support beam brings occupants to each successive floor, and canvas seals the home from the elements.

Bamboo buildings cocoon


Now here is a design suitable for an eco-village in a more jungle type of environment. The curving organic forms and natural materials of this structure by architect Robert Harvey Oshatz seems as if it could have grown out of the forest, calling to mind knots of wood and twisting branches. The curves, in fact, are strategically placed to take full advantage of the space in between the trees that surround the building, giving it the feel of a huge treehouse.

Jungle arch lofted


And speaking of tree homes here is an interesting concept. Treehouses of all sorts are a natural in jungle environments, and Finca Bellavista – an eco village in Costa Rica – is a veritable display of the various styles and designs that are possible, letting residents create their own sustainable structures in the treetops. Described as the world’s first planned, modern treehouse community, Finca Bellavista features a large community complex with a dining hall and an open-air lounge as well as a “Sky Trail” transportation network of hanging boardwalks.

Jungle arch Finca Bella


Still in the jungle but a little closer to home is this unusually practical design. Open to the warm winds of the Pacific Ocean, the prefabricated V-Houses provide a rustic modern jungle retreat in Yelapa, Mexico, outside of Puerto Vallarta. Three of the resort’s guest houses stand out from the trees, made out of steel, plywood and red corrugated iron roofs.

Jungle architecture "V" house


Another interesting but still futuristic design comes under the heading of solar. Portable prefab houses can definitely be well-designed and beautiful, but the zeroHouse takes it up a notch with sustainable features like a large solar panel array that also gathers rainwater and provides shade. It may be super-compact, but it packs a lot into that small footprint, including a bedroom/bathroom module, second level deck, kitchen/living module, an entry porch and storage space.

Future solar prefab


Here is a real home already built and in the desert that could be relatively easy to adapt right now. Living comfortably in a desert environment without air conditioning may seem like an impossible dream, but architect Lloyd Russell managed to create a structure that is modern and eco-friendly with passive cooling thanks to a rusted metal canopy that covers the home. This canopy provides shade and air flow, and allows the home to blend in well with historical industrial and farm buildings in the area.

Simple modern desert


And how about taking an old sustainable house type, the dome, and making it much more so. A rotating dome home might sound like the hokey dream of a UFO enthusiast, but spinning on a central axis actually serves an important purpose. It allows this unusual home to adjust to balance interior light and heat levels. Everything inside the home is built around a central pivot point, and the home spins silently using very little energy.

Spinning eco friendly


And finally for those of you that have everything comes the ultimate eco green village home. Oh, part of everything means a hundred million bucks to build this super green house of the future. So with a price tag of $100 million, this luxury green home needs to impress with a long list of sustainable features and creature comforts. When it comes to energy, at least, this pricey home actually delivers, with renewable power production strategies that allow the home to produce more energy than it consumes. Where do I get mine?

Futuristic green house


So all in all we could be in for an amazing ride into the future, so long as we have talented believers, designers, architects, and social planners giving us their visions. Hmmm, which one would you choose?

Copyright 2017 Tucson Tortolitas Eco Village