earthbag construction in nepal.

After finishing my second year in the B.Arch program, I decided to take a year off. By summer’s end I knew I was going to Nepal to assist with disaster relief. Unsure of what I would be doing, I was connected with two french architects upon arrival in Kathmandu, Guillaume and Louis. Both of them, recent graduates from France, had been traveling together around India and Nepal, donating their time and skills to developing different architecture projects. I was fortunate enough to assist them in one of their phases. 

They had been to the village of Phulkharka previously to survey 18 different sites for a school rebuilding design that they developed, however, anxiously awaiting government approval and funding, I assisted them in the fall months in another project there. Jyoti Adhikari, a Kathmandu philanthropist, hailing from the same region was responsible for this project. Mantari, as the locals refer to the land plot, became our site for which we were to design and build 5 different earthbag shelters. The main purpose of the shelter is to, alongside 4 other variations, train local builders the technique for future implementation. We worked with Lochan Pakurel, our translator, who was a recent local civil engineering graduate who helped guide the local builders. 

The finished project houses commuting students during the week to help them spend more time on their studies. The community location is maintained by older member of the community that are otherwise not able to be provided for by their families. By living together, Mantari is rich with agricultural activity and self-sustenance.

Earthbag construction is an inexpensive method to create incredibly durable structures. The process is very basic and simply consists of putting earth from the site into prolypropylene bags, which are then stacked. Each layer is stamped and held together by rows of barbed wire stuck in between each layer and rebar pushed through the bags vertically. Because the bags are made of dirt, the flexibility of adding openings with frames and roofing is easily achieved. Stucco or plaster is then applied to the walls to conceal the structure.

Guillaume and Louis were responsible for the designs yet were kind enough to let me design the final hut. After witnessing both the difference between rectilinear and curved structures, I decided to incorporate elements of both in my design. Curved walls have great natural lateral stability where rectilinear walls need supports through intersections. Because plumbing isn’t an issue, the only real necessary parts are a sleeping area, a living space, and a traditional Nepalese kitchen (chula). The space is oriented so that it can be wrapped around the central wall structure to support the roof. The curved wall is oriented south to provide views across the valley and a sheltered entrance is provided in the north. Because the space is limited, storage spaces are located above the front door within the roof structure, along shelves above and space below the bed.

Unfortunately, I had to leave before being able to finish the project. However, Mantari is now finished and the end results have provided a great palce for the community. I could not have been more fortunate to have helped be a part of this project.