Taking it to the Next Level: CEB Vault Construction

We’ve got some great news on Inga’s House. We have succeeded in inviting Dipl.-Ing. Dittmar Hecken. He is the hands-on instructor from the Earth Building Course that Inga attended at the University of Kassel, in Germany. University of Kassel is the home of Prof. Dr. Gernot Minke‘s group – world leaders in earth construction theory and practice. You can also see Inga’s interview with Dr. Minke in a previous post. We recommend his seminal book on earth construction, Building with Earth: Design and Technology of a Sustainable Architecture, which came out earlier this year. The Europeans are decades ahead of America in earth construction, it seems.

Dittmar will provide us with the needed expertise to build a structure, out of CEBs – that will look like this structure from Tamera. Dittmar led one of the construction groups on this project, and the structure was designed by Gernot Minke:




This is major news for Factor e Farm. A roof of compressed earth block is a high technical accomplishment. The roof is the most expensive part of a house, so this makes economic sense as well – as our friends from Africa will tell you with respect to Nubian vaults. Plus, earth-sheltered housing like this is king of ecological biotecture, if you ask me. Here we’re combining ancient wisdom of earth building with modern CEB machines – open source, under one roof.

We’ll be offering North America’s first workshop on CEB vault construction – end of September, 2009. We’ll get Inga’s House out of it, and we aim to attain a basic level of mastery on CEB construction technique. The world gets full documentation of the process – including open source machinery – for replicability. Inga and the team are doing their homework. Stay tuned.

No, you don’t have to know that the catenary shape of a vault is actually a hyperbolic cosine function. But I bet there will be a large number of these structures popping up all over the Americas. We need to catch up to the rest of the world on this one.


  1. Edward

    That is beautiful!

    Have you settled upon any method for strengthening the bricks? With lime for instance?

    Very exciting. It will also be fun tricking it out with all the highest appropriate tech amenities, as we make them available.

    Do we have any contacts with the EarthShip people? I think they could be a great help.

  2. Rasmus

    Excellent news – I definitely want to be there.

    Two design suggestions:

    1.) Multiple, not just one, temperature barriers should be included. It’s obvious that these vaults should probably be south-facing (one barrier, good). Put a greenhouse in front of that and you have a second temperature barrier. By now, heating requirements inside the vault should be minimal (when earth-sheltered). Some of the earthships in Taos, NM, have three barriers, allowing tropical rainforest-like conditions even in the chilly winter of New Mexico.

    2.) Piped dailight ! While the front of the vault may get sufficient natural light, the back may be somewhat dark. To minimize the need for artificial lighting, consider putting in a light pipe, such as this:
    This is better than a skylight, since it still allows for earth-sheltering, minimizing temperature losses.

  3. Steve W.

    How much earth is needed to create a home/vault of x square feet? I’m sure someone has done the math and the formula is in the wiki somewhere, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere.

  4. […] for CEB construction – and in particular for the Vault Construction Workshop introduced in the last post, here is the soil pulverizer construction and testing of our first prototype. We started on the […]

  5. Abe

    I have used stabilized compressed earth blocks for walls and floors for some time, but I have always been interested in the Nubian Vaults.

    Are you planning to have your vault bricks the same dimensions as the wall bricks, or will you make them thinner like the Nubians?

    A great resource for folks along these lines is Architecture for the Poor, by Hassan Fathy, who is credited for “rediscovering” the Nubian vault techniques and making them popular once again in his native Egypt.

  6. […] of the same material. We will be building a triple-vault structure similar to the one shown in a previous post. We are calling it Inga’s House. We will use wooden forms as guides for the vault to make […]

  7. shaggy

    For stabilzation lime is better than cement. There is also an enzyme that is good for waterproofing. see here under ‘Perma-Zyme 11X’

  8. […] getting the place to look half-way presentable. We’re open to all kinds of ideas, such as the proposed CEB vault construction and others – but we’d need other people to get involved to push those projects forward. […]

  9. […] House in Healing Biotope 1 Tamera. Picture from: […]

  10. […] CEB construction – and in particular for the Vault Construction Workshop introduced in the last post, here is the soil pulverizer construction and testing of our first prototype. We started on the […]

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