Eco-Dome in Ananda Nagar, India
by Krpasundarananda

Krpasundarananda is a Meditation teacher with Ananda Marga and has been a Monk since 1991. His first assignment was in Australia, then he was transferred to New Zealand where he worked for more than eight years teaching meditation at the universities, renovating a meditation center, organizing yoga weekends and setting up (and renovating) a retreat center. Then in 2000 he was transferred to Africa where he started to make newsletters like what is posted below. Though his main job is to teach meditation and help people to realize their spiritual goals, in many cases people don't have the minimum necessities of life, so social service has become important. As his background is engineering and he always had an interest in construction and alternative energy, he got involved with alternative building through an article someone forwarded him about Nader Kalili. In the last few years he has built many domes in different places around the world.

As the news got out about the dome I am building in Ananda Nagar several people wrote to ask me to write how things are going. So finally, though the dome is still not finished at the time of writing, here is some news about the work of the last three months:

Working in a developing country is quite different from what I am used to. Also the work situation in Rural India and in the hottest part of summer with temperatures up to 46C (115F) are not making it easy.

Many other things also happening; festivals, service programs, and running out of visa... Some materials we thought available locally but in the end we had to go to Delhi to get it and had to wait ten days. Actually just digging the foundation took so much time that in the end the items from Delhi reached before the excavation was finished. Just that part took five weeks and should have taken 3 days... It took me a bit of time to adjust to the speed or better to say the lack of speed!

Where it all starts
two weeks later...

There it is, quite barren land, early March when I visited first. After drawing the outline, excavation would start and by the time I would come again two weeks later all digging would be finished and materials ready... That was the idea... but it doesn't work like that here. I came back, no materials and only a little trench.

I started coming every day and a little more happened, also I went around to find the materials. Unfortunately some had to come from Delhi a 20 hour train ride. One other Dada was going there and would bring it. I wasn't so sure if the right things would come back but in this case all went well and he arrived, 10 days later, with all the right things. You'd think the digging would have been ready by then but still it wasn't... This was already mid April, the time I planned to start with plastering the finished dome...

and, five weeks later.
Sand delivered

But finally it was finished and leveled. Above the site with the proud group who dug it. It is a bit more than shows on the photo as the site is on a slope. The opposite site is about one meter deep.

After everything had been moving at tortoise pace for almost 5 weeks, (Digging and leveling the hole shouldn't have taken more than 5 days at leisure speed) the actual start was speedy beyond my expectation.

Mixer starting up
and the first mix!

We have a diesel powered concrete mixer (with buckets for water cooling...) and soon it was churning out mix at high speed. We started at 6pm and by 9pm we finished the first two layers; that's about 13meter or 40ft/hour! I think that's a good output. With the mixer churning out mix and setting the pace, I am sure the speed will remain high.

Even at that time of the day it's 35C and I felt dehydrated even while drinking three liters of water in those three hours. After some days work I had myself drinking 8 liters a day just to keep up with the sweat lost!

9 pm and the first two layers of bag are in place
Few days later. Bathroom door in place.

The next day the laborers didn't turn up... they didn't like working in the evening. But the day after all was set for 3pm and we worked till 8pm doing another two layers on the central dome and three on one of the side domes. It seemed slower and indeed counting feet/hour it went down to 30ft/h. I am also slower now, on the way to the site I got caught in lose sand, luckily at very low speed, but the scooter slid on my leg and put a nice hole in my foot...

My visa is expiring so at that point I had only 9 days left till I had to leave India, I was still hoping that the basic shell might just be finished by then... possibly... but maybe wishful thinking:-) Nothing ever goes as planned in places like this.

Plastic all around to keep the water out
Temporal relief from the sun

Today we completed filling 400 meters of bag in the equivalent of six days work with around eight people working.

Two more days left... things won't be finished, but I hope at least the curvature of the domes will start to show clearly so everyone has something to speculate on. Everyday some people from nearby villages turn up to have a look, sometimes involving the laborers and bringing the work to a stand still.

Hard work... sometimes
Look from the bedroom through the living room to the entrance. The green hose was our water level.

Working side by side with the laborers helps a lot especially as I don't speak the language. It's a bit strange for them as in India, the employer normally never does any physical labor. He (or less common she) just looks and gives orders/shouts... But sorry that is not my style! I would get very bored...Even amongst the laborers some (the more 'clever' ones) won't do the heavier work of bringing the mix. They would happily hold up the bag with four man if they would get away with it! But then, when I am ready to do anything needed, how can they escape:-) Still, at the same time all are curious what this dome will be like and they are a friendly bunch.

Beside having a showpiece to inspire our members and other teachers I really hope one or two of the laborers or visiting villagers really get the idea and will like to learn more. I'll be happy to help them to build in their own village.

Some visiting Dada's and myself
End of the day.

Now it is time to leave, we did make quite some progress, over 400 meters (1250ft) of bag was laid, the windows and doors were in place and the waterproofing barrier was put around the parts under ground. The windows look like boxes, a bit ugly but the idea is to put mosquitoes mesh on the outside and still be able to open the windows from within. When we got higher with the building we found that the 'boxes' are also ideal footsteps to get up.

laying bags
more group photo's

The day after I returned from a trip I went to the site and found everything in good condition except... the concrete mixer was missing. Few days later it was back but the gear which drives the drum was completely worn and couldn't turn it anymore. Another day lost. Finally Dada Cidananda, the person in charge of the project (of which my dome is a small part), convinced me to just make the mix by hand. I thought this was hopeless as we need so much, but better slow than no progress at all! It worked out that it's almost as fast as the diesel mixer!! Finally we got going again and had three productive days, one day laying over 100m, about 3 1/2 layers on the whole building.

Looking (too) closely at the camera..
One of the many many group photo's

Double hat against the sun. It may look silly but I learned not to joke with the sun!
Many Didi's also interested. Here we are enjoying watermelon from the garden.

Progress at the time of writing.

Is it not starting to look a dome? The plan is to close the dome within ten days! It is really possible, according to my estimate only six more working days are needed.

Floor plan. Beside the big 5m/16tf central room, two bedrooms, a bathroom and entrance.

Side view, with a human? to scale

 Now the dome is standing strong and from the right angle it even looks like a dome! From some other angles it looks more like a pyramid.. Quite a few obstacles came along (as usual) but each was overcome. One time two layers of newly laid bag started to slide and almost fell off, very tricky once getting higher and the curve starts turning inward quicker.

Next obstacle was that we needed to step in quicker but with the bag having almost slipped off I realized we couldn't step in more, now what to do? Continuing to step in at the maximum possible amount would give a pyramidal top. I don't know if this matters for the strength of the structure but even if not, without disrespect to the ancient pyramids intended, I set out to make a dome!

The solution came simple and worked most of the way, we made the bags less and less high, by putting less mix. Also this had a limit but the result is definitely more like a dome.

One of the reasons that we ran into this problem is that we bought 15" bag, as the dome was meant to be 15', but 15' became 5 meters as I thought it to be about the same. Finally 5m was used for the inner diameter as my supervisor liked it a bit bigger.. so finally the dome became almost 18'! And normally we would use the wider 18" bags for it, which would give a lot more space to step in. (guess this is only clear to someone who builds a dome already...)

Its growing and growing
Children for the daily meal distribution

The laborers started to like it more and more and always had fun climbing on top, especially for photo's. Every afternoon 50-100 children filled the compound... and they also liked to climb on the Dome. It took a while to explain that this was not a good idea while construction was in progress.

The house next to the Dome with roof and
after a little storm, without roof...

One morning the sky turned dark and a big thunder storm came rolling in. We had to run for shelter and watched the weather become more violent. We were in the old mud house about 100 meters away and could only watch when we saw half the roof being lifted off, blown away and landing a good 30 meters further completely mangled. Now does anyone want a dome house?! No roof that can be blown off! After 30 minutes the storm was gone and work started.

Inside photo's

Some inside photo's, showing the height of the wall. Every time you feel that it's really high but after a few days looking back it seems not high at all. Funny how ones perception changes. People climbing on top the first time wouldn't dare to stand on the wall but once they get used to it they walk on it without worry. The entrance door to the central dome on the right still needs to be shaped. Once done it will also have a nice arch, The stabilized earth is quite hard but unlike concrete it is still easy to break, so with a hammer one can adjust the shape before giving it a beautiful finish with plaster. On the same photo you can see the center pole with the chain used to measure the exact radius. On the left photo you can see the chain used to measure the shape of the wall/roof. Also you can see how the bag is filled on the spot..

A whole delegation, and taking notes!
smaller and smaller circle from the noon sun

On the right is the circle of sunlight at noon. I was watching it's radius decrease every day till there was only a small dot left. At this point standing on the edge we were about 5 meters up. It's a long way down... but somehow you get used to it quickly. Some more photo's but less writing below :

Mixing the mix or Masala as it's called locally
Getting there...
Inside the big dome
Building domes is fun!
Before the PP tube was removed
and after the plaster was applied
Preparing to apply the plaster
Sunset on the dome, with thunder clouds behind
And the pyramid, um, dome is finished.

And that's it at the point I left. Looking like a nice dome from this angle. The small dome on the right is plastered, the one in front half finished and the rest not yet done. The bag was removed before applying the plaster.

Let me mention again that the technique used is called Super Adobe and was developed by Nader Khalili. The design of this dome was inspired by his Eco-dome design. To learn more about Super Adobe and Nader Khalili check the website http://www.calearth.org Without all the learning and inspiration from the course I did last year at the " California Institute of Earth Technology " (Calearth) this and future projects wouldn't have been possible.

If anyone wants to learn more and get practical experience please feel free to come and help on my projects already planned or otherwise I am happy to go anywhere on this earth to assist and teach.


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