Super Adobe – An Accessible Doorway to Earthen Building

In the courses I run I observe how much fun people have when building with earth. It is intuitive, kind, forgiving and fun. It literally connects us to the earth. One earthen building technique that’s a creative and low cost way of getting started in the natural building world is super adobe.

Super Adobe – An Accessible Doorway to Earthen Building 01

The concept is old. Bags would be filled to create a barrier that is solid, bulletproof in fact! Earth bags or sand bags are also used as a barrier during times of flooding. Both of these solutions evolved because when created with a team the technique is relatively quick and strong.

Architect Nader Khalili spent a couple of decades designing skyscrapers, then after some time in the Iranian desert he developed the concept of super adobe dome clusters in 1984. The building method is now widely used and is endorsed by the United Nations.

Super Adobe – An Accessible Doorway to Earthen Building 02

Super Adobe – An Accessible Doorway to Earthen Building 03

Circles are the most efficient way of enclosing a space, this is why you don’t see straight lines in nature. Domes are awesome and special structures. The walls become the roof, there are no corners, so no weak points. The pressure of the building is equally distributed.

The technique involves compacting polypropylene bags filled with earth until they are totally solid. These bags are low cost and available almost everywhere. For small projects you don’t necessarily need the long rolls, you can use individual bags. Barbed wire is placed in-between the bags, which serves as reinforcement and mortar. The barbed wire adds tensile (horizontal) strength.

Super Adobe – An Accessible Doorway to Earthen Building 04

Super Adobe – An Accessible Doorway to Earthen Building 05

Once the work with the bags is done, the structure is covered with chicken wire and skimmed with a coat of cement stabilized earth plaster. There are different options for the final coat, it can be white cement and dye, mosaic, or another coat of cement stabilised earthen plaster. This final durable layer provides protection from the elements so the structure requires little maintenance. The finished result is beautiful and unique.

As a builder, teacher and facilitator I like super adobe construction because it is sustainable, creative, artistic and durable. It feels realistic and doable for people to get started. It has many applications, from houses, play areas, or shelters for small animals. It is great to start with small projects to gain experience and confidence, and they can often be created in back gardens, schools and public areas.

Super Adobe – An Accessible Doorway to Earthen Building 06
Super Adobe – An Accessible Doorway to Earthen Building  07

The only draw back is its time consuming and hard work. Nader Khalili knew this and developed the concept so all ages can contribute, from children to grand parents. With friends, community, a good plan and great music the problem is the solution – many hands make light work! It is amazing what can be achieved and there is nothing like the satisfaction that comes through creating with your hands in collaboration and cooperation!

Super Adobe – An Accessible Doorway to Earthen Building 08

Matt Prosser is an international Permaculture designer, teacher, sustainable builder and co-founder of
Matt will be teaching two certified courses at the Alisler Yurdu project in Turkey. Both of these courses have been designed so participants leave inspired and empowered with practical know how that can be applied anywhere.

Get Your Hands Dirty: Permaculture In Practice Weekend April 7 – 9:

Get Your Hands Dirty: Sustainable Building & Permaculture workshop June 23 – 27:

Alişler Yurdu is is a exciting example of Permaculture and sustainable living in the Mediterranean. Set in a stunning location the project strives to inspire and empower harmonious, healthy and creative lives.


  1. I live in Pennsylvania and would like to know if this can be done in our climate and/or what modifications ma be necessary in a high moisture environment. Thank you!

  2. Robert,

    The concept was developed in the desert. There are super adobe building in countless countries around the world. I personally know of buildings like these in Thailand and India both of which receive monsoon rains.

    There are a number of factors that you would want to consider.
    > Choosing a suitable site, orientation of the building and landscaping around the building.
    > Foundations: depth, material and type, how much the building is raised off the ground, stabilizing lower layers.
    > Quality of exterior render.
    > Time of year chosen for construction.

    All the best!

    1. :)
      I live in Thailand. You say you know of “buildings like these” (super adobe, I guess) in Thailand … please provide some way for me to find them.

      I live in the southern part, where there is generally more rain than in other parts of the country. I’ve yet to even start building an earthen home, but it’s been in mind for some years.

      1. Bhaktivedanta Swami had some earth cottages built in West Virginia in 1970. They lasted 40 years, just needing a coating of mud every couple of years, if that. People moved on to large modern structures and the cottages became in disrepair. The key in humid climates is large overhangs on all sides and a raised foundation. You may even want to insulate the perimeter of the foundation for energy conservation.

    2. Hey Matt,

      I am thinking of building one in Gambia, West Africa. It gets monsoon rains in the wet season. The earth also has a high clay content. Any tips on where I can find out about mixtures/ratios? Also any tips about the foundation? Was thinking of using more of a sand and high concrete mix in the first couple of layers. Also was thinking of using rice bags, because we cant get adobe bags here?

      All the Best,


  3. What is the projected lifespan ? I mean how fast do the polypropylene bags break down and how fast does the coating on the barb wire corrode and then the wire rust through .

    I guess we are not talking anywhere near the hundreds [or even thousands ] of years as in the case of more traditional natural structures ?

    1. All these modern adobe processes are not as good as traditional methods. But there are some new methods that are better than the traditional methods that will be published soon.

  4. From what I have seen superadobe/hiberadobe uses continuous tubular roll material. A course is one long continuous length except at intersection or openings in the structure. What is being displayed here is earth bag construction. Nothing wrong with the approach but it is being mislabeled.

    I would also have preferred to see rebar pins rather than what appears to be chicken wire. Chicken wire is made of virgin material where rebar is a recycled product. generally.

  5. Mat,

    The polypropylene bags act as a form, just like when forms are filled to make traditional rammed earth or adobe bricks. Traditional adobe involves turning and carrying the bricks several times. By putting the earth in the bags and directly building saves lots of work.

    The bags will degrade in the sun, but they have done their job once the structure is built if the sand clay ratio is right. I have heard of people burning off the bags before applying the external render, but normally they are left in place. The barbed wire provides tensile strength and reinforcement, the idea is it’s never exposed, so it wont degrade, similar to re-bar in concrete.

    As with all building, especially those built with earth, maintenance is required. If the exterior render is applied correctly and the building is maintained, then I see no reason why super adobe structures could not last hundreds or thousands of years. The concept was developed in 1984, 33 years ago, time will tell! There are other factors which can also effect the life of the building, some of which I mentioned in my previous comment.

  6. If you plan to build one in a wet environment, if you use regular cement, I suggest you find a sealant that will last a long time and not just pour something into the paint, as the builder of mind did. I’m told there is a coating they use in Alaska that should survive any climate. I’ve never worked with hempcrete, but I’m told you shouldn’t have this problem.

  7. Could I make and use bags made from recycled fabrics? I imagine if they were all the same size and made from no stretch material, they would do the job? Any reason why this would not work? Anyone else used fabric?

    1. Hello Liz,
      Maybe, but the material would have to be very tough to take the pounding required to compress the earth. The polypropylene bags are very low cost & widely available, so making them would not be a very efficient approach. If your really up for it I would advise trying it out on a small project & getting feedback from that. Perhaps Its worth considering saving your time for other artistic parts of the build like plastering, mosaic, stained glass, natural paints, etc. Thing that could be seen & appreciated.
      All the best!

  8. Dear Mat,

    I live in Poland and I am working on creating a farm that is based on permaculture and I love the earthy solutions! Is the cold and wintery climate right for building the adobe houses? Temperatures can reach -30 in Winter and +40 in Summer….and it often rains too.

    If the answer is positive I would like to attend some practical workshops to see how it could be done!


  9. Hello Sylwia,
    With it dropping thirty below in winter I think you would be better off thinking about a straw bail build. Orientation will be important too, so you can catch the winter sun. Look into passive solar houses.
    All the best with your project!

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