Ceramic Houses and Earth Architecture: How to Build Your Own
If you are looking for a quick "how to" book, this is not it. I would recommend "Earthbag Building" by Kaki Hunter and Donald Kiffmeyer for diagrams, instructions and necessary explanations. However, if you are hungry for richer, broader information, including pictures and stories of the homes Mr. Khalili helped villagers put together, and how he persuaded them to go back to the building techniques that their ancestors had embraced (quite successfully) for eons, then this book is for you.
I ordered his DVD, "Designing With Nature" first and viewed it several times. The philosophies contained therein were a great appetizer prior to reading "Ceramic Houses & Earth Architecture," which became the main course.
In Chapter 20 the book shows you how to try your hand at designing a fired brick home, using traditional red art clay. Mr. Khalili writes, "*...The traditional long training of students and apprentices produces good masons and teachers, but it will never be enough to make a dent in the world's housing shortage. For earth architecture to flourish, people must be educated--they must experience what is possible, and touch the clay with their own hands.
*Once a person has constructed a model--within hours--he or she is encouraged to learn and understand more. The knowledge thus gained will trigger quests in building with earth.
*It is possible to learn the basics of thousands of years of earth architecture within a day if it is taught in the simplest terms, and if all our senses are involved in the learning process."
Can you hang a chain between two points, and trace it's arc on a piece of paper tacked to the wall behind the chain? If so, then you have traced the arch you need to build when what you have traced is flipped bottom to top (from a "cup" shape to an "arch" shape).
Yes, a little math is helpful, however people have been building these structures for eons simply using their ten fingers and toes and so can you.
All that being said, Mr. Khalili makes it clear, if one takes the time to read what he has written, that experimentation will give you a much better outcome. He tells how to test the clay/soil bricks you've made. How to test your local soil with mason jars and water. He recommends making a very small structure first. Use his tests and don't go to the next step until you understand how to duplicate the last successful one.
I am including the Table of Contents, as I would have felt much better about spending the money on this book if I could have seen the chapter headings in advance! Perhaps this will help others know if this book is right for them.
The book is organized into the following parts:
1-THE EVOLUTION (how the ceramic house came into being)
2-PHILOSOPHY AND DESIGN PRINCIPLES (working with nature, structural principles and basic forms and designs)
3-MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES (appropriate site and materials, adobe, fired-earth adobe mixture, making adobe forms and block-making, foundations, walls how to build arches, domes and vaults, roofing and wall covering, flooring, interior finishes, openings and utilities)
4-FIRING AND CERAMIC GLAZING (firing earth structures, interior sculpting and glazing, landscaping and rehabilitation)
5-BEGINNING (making models and visions for the future)
APPENDIX (Shell membrane theory applied to masonry domes, magma, ceramic and fused adobe structures generated in situ, building codes, glossary and metric and U.S systems of weights and measures
If these techniques were as apparent as falling off a log, we'd all be living in earth homes today. But it took generations of tinkering and tweaking to get to this point. So there is a bit to learn in order to avoid serious structural defects, bad cracking, or using the wrong materials for your climate. The book gives you what you need to know. One can either experiment and learn, or take one of the courses. Or both. Regardless of which way you learn best, the book is a valuable resource for any who are determined to live in such a durable, comfortable, relatively inexpensive "perma-culture" sort of home. The book may also be of assistance to anyone attempting to change current local building standards.