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"Presence in Hormuz": A SuperAdobe Earthbag Home Community

By Maria Saxton Rise Writer
Apr 1, 2021

Imagine living in a community of eco-friendly homes built with all-natural materials, situated on a scenic island. Sound ideal? We think so too! 

Presence in Hormuz From the Water Tahmineh Monzavi
Presence in Hormuz From the Water. Photo Credit: Tahmineh Monzavi

ZAV Architects' Domes

On Hormuz Island in Iran sits a community of domes built with the SuperAdobe building method. Hormuz Island is located in the Persian Gulf south of Iran and historically was a port. The dome community originated as an idea to economically revitalize the island. Residents were empowered and trained in SuperAdobe and earthbag construction methods and participated in the building process themselves. The homes were built in 2020 and provide a tourist destination. Two hundred one domes were built, including 132 hotel rooms, 14 domes for entertainment and sports, 21 for food and beverages, and 28 for housing the hotel management and other services. In total, the domes occupy two hundred square meters. They envision the next phase of this project as a community space to connect residents with tourists visiting the island.

Presence in Hormuz Walkway Tahmineh Monzavi
Presence in Hormuz Walkway. Photo Credit: Tahmineh Monzavi

This community was designed by ZAV Architects, an architectural firm formed in 2006. As evident by their innovative dome project, ZAV believes that "collective creativity can reach grounds unattainable to individual efforts." The dome project won the Golden Award at the 2020 Taipei International Design Award competition and the winner of the 2020 Memar Awards.

Presence in Hormuz Soroush Majidi
Presence in Hormuz. Photo Credit: Soroush Majidi

What Does "Presence in Hormuz" Look Like? 

Upon strolling through the main entrance, you will find a cluster of some of the community's largest domes. Here you will find a network of domes that serve the hotel, including an entrance hall, solar domes, domes for management and staff, and more. The rest of the clusters primarily provide accommodations for visitors, including hotel rooms, restaurants, cafes, salons, and other commercial spaces.

Presence in Hormuz Space Usage Plan Zav Architects
Presence in Hormuz Space Usage Plan. Image Credit: Zav Architects

The domes themselves are small-scale and organically shaped, arranged in various cluster sizes with unique and colorful walkways that connect the clusters. Surrounding the domes and throughout the walkways, plants are specially placed to add warmth and greenery.

The dome community incorporates bright colors everywhere - the domes themselves, the sidewalks, the interior walls, and even the furniture boasts bright reds, blues, yellows, and greens. The domes vary in height and shape; some are taller than the rest, and others have rounded tops instead of slightly pointed tops.

When seeing the dome community from the water, the domes seem to echo the mountainous landscape beyond, yet at the same time, draw a stark contrast with their bright colors.

Presence in Hormuz From Above DJI
Presence in Hormuz From Above. Photo Credit: DJI

How Might These SuperAdobe Homes Lessen Their Occupant's Environmental Impact? 

Countless factors influence your environmental impact, but among the most important have to do with where you live. In recent years, the building trend has been to go "big," and newly constructed homes in North America are among the world's largest. Across the span of a few decades, home size has increased exponentially. This substantial increase in home size has led to many detrimental environmental impacts. These impacts include more significant air pollution and energy consumption and the loss of biologically productive land. Since a building's size is one of the most considerable energy consumption indicators, reducing home size can improve this problem.

The Oregon Department of Energy (DEQ) released a study in 2010 that found that reducing home size was the single most effective measure for reducing one's environmental impact on the earth. By conducting a life cycle assessment (LCA) of a 2,262 square foot medium home versus an extra small home of 1,149 square feet, the study found that, across all categories, the environmental impact of the extra small home was significantly smaller than that of the medium-sized home.

Presence in Hormuz Majara Residence Tahmineh Monzavi
Presence in Hormuz Majara Residence. Photo Credit: Tahmineh Monzavi

The domes designed by ZAV Architects are small-scale and implement natural building methods and materials. The rammed earth and sand used in the SuperAdobe building method have a lower embodied energy than building materials in traditional construction, like concrete or steel.

Presence in Hormuz Interior Tahmineh Monzavi
Presence in Hormuz Interior. Photo Credit: Tahmineh Monzavi

How Does SuperAdobe Construction Work? 

SuperAdobe construction is commonly referred to as earthbag architecture. This construction is a relatively simple but innovative technique that uses rammed earth and sand—this technique layers bags or tubes of dirt and other organic materials to form a compression structure. The dome community on Hormuz Island used building materials from Iran, which reduced construction and transportation costs and environmental impacts. Specifically, the sandbags used in these domes are filled with dredging sand from the Hormuz dock.

The earth-based materials provide a natural thermal mass that is appropriate for Iran's arid climate. During the day, the walls absorb heat, and at night, they release the stored heat. In addition, the dome shape creates natural air circulation. SuperAdobe construction is a wonderful building construction method for a suitable climate. In other environments, SuperAdobe construction may not be as appropriate.

Where Was the SuperAdobe Method Created?

This building method was developed by Iranian-born architect Nader Khalili who fine-tuned this method while living in Southern California. Nader was a world-renowned architect, author, and innovator who contributed significantly to learning in the built environment. His work was even cited in multiple NASA publications. He founded the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (Cal-Earth), where he taught earthbag building techniques to thousands. Presently, his children have continued their father's mission.

Presence in Hormuz Living Tahmineh Monzavi
Presence in Hormuz Living. Photo Credit: Tahmineh Monzavi

How Do You Build Using the SuperAdobe Method?

The SuperAdobe method developed by Nader Khalili incorporates the use of sandbags, barbed wire, on-site earth and requires just a few tools. 

First, the sandbags are filled with moistened earth material that is arranged in layers. In between each layer, strands of barbed wire are placed to provide reinforcement. This method may sound relatively simple, but it is strong - in fact, it has passed multiple earthquake tests in California. By using modern engineering concepts such as base isolation and post-tensioning, a SuperAdobe building is structurally sound. In addition, these buildings are flood resistant because of the sandbags and both fire resistant and insulated because of the earth material.

Presence in Hormuz From Above DJI
Presence in Hormuz From Above. Photo Credit: DJI

How Do You Finish SuperAdobe Buildings?

To make a SuperAdobe building a permanent structure, it is recommended to plaster over the sandbag structure. Khalili developed a type of plaster that contains 15% cement plaster and 85% earth material to make it more environmentally friendly than traditional plaster. In California, the Cal-Earth campus hosts an array of SuperAdobe buildings - from a small shelter to a large three-bedroom home. The campus has been a center for research and education for over three decades.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-21T16:24:05+0000
Maria Saxton

Article by:

Maria Saxton

Located in Roanoke, Virginia, Maria Saxton holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Design and Planning from Virginia Tech. She works as an Environmental Planner and Housing Researcher for a local firm specializing in Community Planning, Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Historic Preservation. Her dissertation explored the environmental impacts of small-scale homes. She serves as a volunteer board member for the Tiny Home Industry Association.