A Doable Solution: The EcoShell
Editor’s Note: David originally wrote this article shortly after Haiti’s 7.0 earthquake in January 2010, but the information applies to any country recovering from a disaster or struggling with massive hunger and homelessness.
At Monolithic, we have developed a simple structure to provide for the basic needs of a family. It’s a Monolithic EcoShell dome, designed specifically to answer the needs of shelterless people worldwide.
When it comes to basic shelter, the United Nations, years ago, found that a family of eight needs a home of just 28 square meters. The Chinese echo this finding. They say that one person needs one ping (36’ sq.) of floor space, half of it to sleep on and half for valuables.
Thus, we now have an EcoShell with a diameter of 6 meters (19.69’) and a living area of 28 square meters or 8 pings or 305 square feet. That 6-meter dome is needed in the developing world by the tens of thousands – really millions.
The 6-meter EcoShell
They’re wonderful because EcoShells are easy to build, easy to teach others to build and fast to construct. They require no serious equipment or education – just simple materials, cement and reinforcement available almost everywhere, and workers willing to work.
The EcoShell should be put on a piece of property large enough for expansion or a garden. Adding rooms to the basic unit can be done without complexity.
That basic unit is a concrete floor with a 6-meter diameter. Preferably, the dome should have a sink; a walled-off toilet and a walled-off shower. The balance of the dome is open. At completed projects, EcoShell occupants have amazed us with what they did with that balance of space. They used screens, curtains, mats and furniture to divide it up into individual areas.
It has been estimated that Haiti, for example, needs approximately 200,000 EcoShells to house up to 1 million people. Although that sounds like a very daunting task, it really is not. A few good workers can build an EcoShell in three to five days.
How it’s Built
For a 6-meter dome, you need: 50 bags of cement, 2500’ roll of basalt reinforcing or fiberglass, about 5 cubic meters of small size concrete aggregate, an Airform that can be used hundreds of times, a small inflator fan and a few workers primarily with hand tools.
The basalt reinforcing (basalt rebar is now produced by several countries) weighs 1/11th as much as steel, but is stronger and – most importantly – will not rust. Fiberglass reinforcing can also be used since it does not rust. For low-cost, quickly built housing, not rusting is imperative.
Affordable domes can be built that can withstand hurricanes and earthquakes, can last for centuries, and do not overtax a country’s natural resources. At a later date, if and when money is available, these buildings can be insulated and fancied-up, but for now we have created a concrete, virtually indestructible, much needed, safe haven for a family.
The following illustrations show a fictitious village. Obviously, in most places we will not find a neat, square piece of land on which to put this somewhat sterile looking village. But we can adapt the layout to the topography of the land available. With landscaping and owners’ care the village becomes beautiful.
Monolithic EcoShells are described in detail on: WWW.MONOLITHIC.COM
Monolithic EcoShells are not just poor-people housing. They are smart-people housing. And to demonstrate that, an EcoShell community must include upscale, dome housing and official, public buildings for government dignitaries and community leaders.
Thus, the domes are for everybody because of what they are: earthquake-proof, hurricane-proof, fire-proof, termite-proof.
What Einstein once said fits Monolithic Domes: “We cannot get better if we keep doing things the same old way.” The Monolithic Dome is a paradigm shift in construction. We have built homes varying in size and value from small and easily affordable to mansion-size and worth several million dollars.
These domes not only provide the shelter and the space that is needed, but they do it at a reasonable cost and save enormous amounts of energy. As we rebuild a country, it is important that we are as miserly with the expenditure of energy as we can possibly be. Energy required to heat or cool a Monolithic Dome is generally 1/4 to not more than 50% of any conventional building. This is well proven by the thousands of Monolithic Domes that have already been constructed.
Multifamily, High-density Housing
Monolithic Dome Institute has not yet developed and built a satisfactory, high-density housing program. We know that it is needed, and we know that using Monolithic technology it can be done.
A concrete structure built with curves is far stronger than any conventional structure. We see that after tornadoes rage through America’s Midwest hitting large concrete silos. Such silos can withstand those tornadoes. Obviously silos can be turned into apartment houses and have become multi-floored and multi-apartment.
Cities around the world use high-density housing to save real estate. But it’s about more than just saving real estate. High-density housing cuts the length of water lines, sewer lines, streets, other pieces of infrastructure and the distances between workers and their work.
Plans for rebuilding a country must include impressive architecture – particularly for various government offices, ranging from a legislative building topped by a dome to everyday administrative facilities. Much space is needed for government buildings since such programs and services provide water, sewer, electricity, etc. Other eye-catching buildings can include sports arenas, basketball and soccer facilities and certainly schools, both small and large.
Most capitol buildings are topped by a dome. So far, we have designed Monolithic Domes for many uses, but we have not built a government capitol building. Still, we definitely know how to build a dome. So why not design the entire capitol building as a dome and have a spacious, safe, energy efficient, simple structure that does not require the crown jewels for payment?
Here’s another advantage: Monolithic technology is fast. A 50,000 square foot building can be structurally in place in a matter of a few months. That’s a huge advantage when rebuilding a government facility that was destroyed. And never forget the energy savings.
A president, premier and others need impressive housing. In addition, villages, ports and commerce districts need government buildings for general administrative use and as police and fire stations.
Note: We included fire stations. Now is a good time for this rebuilding country to concentrate on building using primarily non-flammable material. That enormously cuts the need for fire stations. Obviously, fire stations become rescue stations, and obviously they contain furniture and other burnables. But if contents are kept to a minimum, fire stations can be much smaller, simpler and far less costly.
Whether small or large, government buildings can be impressive – especially when designed by creative architects who believe in simple and elegant.
That’s where the economy lives. A society needs factories, markets, storages, restaurants, hotels and so on, in a variety of sizes and descriptions. In general, such facilities should be earthquake and fire safe and tough enough to handle all hurricanes. Obviously some may need straight walls, but in general we will want a concrete shell for any large structure because of its inherent strength.
When rebuilding, there is an immediate, huge need for manufacturing. The population must be put back to work in virtually any type of manufacturing – sewing factory, toy factory, etc. – especially in manufacturing that requires more labor and less equipment. Labor is what the country has in abundance, and its laborers can be trained very quickly. This brings income to individuals as well as the country.
New Monolithic technology allows us to construct energy-efficient commercial buildings using far less material. That saves money on the initial construction and on long-term maintenance and cooling.
Note: We call our technology new, but it is old to us. Click here to read more about the Pantheon. It was built in A.D. 126. It is a 143’ diameter concrete dome (44 meters) still in use today.
Concrete thin shell domes have an enormous lifespan. Since big beams and big structural supports are not needed in doms, they don’t need to be imported. We simply use the aggregate and cement within the country. If we do not have enough cement produced locally, shipping it in is easy. It has a modest cost and is easily transported.
Storages of all kinds are needed for any industrial society. Cement storages, sugar storages, fuel storages, water storages – all can be put in a concrete dome.
Sewer digesters also work extremely well in concrete domes. Sewage plants will be needed throughout. These sewage plants can be as simple as lagoons, and in many places this will be the preferred choice. In addition to lagoons, domes can be built that will capture the methane from the sewage and use it to generate electricity to replenish the grid.
Coal-fired plants are still the least expensive system of generating electricity. It may be advantageous to build a large coal-fired plant. With the discovery of natural gas under Haiti, certainly a lot of electricity can be generated using that for fuel.
Water plants will be needed. By water plants, we mean the desalination of sea water. In addition, we will need to store significant amounts of fresh water from the heavy rains. Those rains only last part of the year, so the storages will need to be done, many and big. We have developed a fabric storage tank that is phenomenal and stores large amounts of fresh water and keeps it clean. Large concrete tanks can be built as well.
The country needs, as time goes on, to have other basic industries: cement plants for producing the actual cement and perhaps a steel plant to use scrap metal and make it into new steel. There is a large market and need for reducing scrap metal and making new steel. It will be imperative for new industries to be brought into Haiti. These new industries will include some that we haven’t even thought of yet.
The Food Chain
This is another area that needs be looked at. For example, Haiti already knows how to grow a lot of food, but it can be done more efficiently, and some can be best done within a building. The development of LED lights, that can be tuned to the actual frequency that the plant needs to grow, allows plants to be grown inside of structures – in many cases for less money than out in a field where they get burned or over watered. Many nasty problems can happen in a field that is not in a structure. This is technology for tomorrow – a very near tomorrow!
I have been asked to come up with a price on all of this. Coming up with a price is a very, very daunting task. We have estimated that a little village using our 6-meter domes would cost about $10,000 per dome, including the infrastructure to handle the dome. By the infrastructure, we mean the water systems, sewer systems, electric distribution and simple roads.
So 200,000 domes at $10,000 each equals $2 billion. If we double that to include impressive houses, government buildings, commercial buildings, we are now at $4 billion. If we throw another billion at infrastructure we are at $5 billion. The $5 billion would have to be very husbanded. Suspicion is we could easily chew up twice that, over the next three or four years. On the other hand, it would allow the world to see a very viable economy in Haiti. It would be a very viable nation that has gone from abject poverty to something to behold.