Ceramic House Dreams

Ceramic House

At the age of eight I would find myself on Saturday working with my father helping pull wire on one of his electrical contracting projects. Later I found my own area of interest in construction working out on the farm house with Larry Lux an instrumental mentor in my life’s journey. I discovered carpentry to be an area that I really enjoyed. After I finished high school I went to college and studied commercial art and later transferred into a fine arts program where I vacillated between being a ceramist and or a sculptor. Unable to continue my college pursuits financially I found myself returning to Michigan to begin the journey of working as a carpenter building custom homes. I later moved to California where I did some commercial tenant improvements and then ended up in petrol chemical facility construction. After a stint as a carpenter in refineries I cross traded and became a pipe fitter which introduced me to structural steel. Eventually I finished my degree, in business yet I ended up teaching construction, engineering, and Architecture at the high school level. Little did I realize how this would interplay with my journey in Pakistan?

I was sitting at Rukhsana Foundation with Mushtaq Tahirkheli and Naveed Sheikh listening to them discuss what the optimal construction method would be for constructing houses in the flood regions of Punjab. Mushtaq felt that brick structures would be more permanent yet Naveed felt that mud structures were the traditional structures that the people had too and with so many houses needed Rukhsana Foundation could construct two mud homes to one brick home.  Suddenly as I listened I remembered a research paper that one of my architect students in 2006 had done on Nader Khalili on Ceramic Houses. I interjected the idea into the conversation where both Naveed and Mushtaq wanted more information regarding Ceramic Houses.

It is amazing how simple thoughts can become major intersections in your journey in life. It started with going on to Facebook to see if I could communicate with Amanda the former student that wrote the paper. In the processes of reaching out to Amanda I found another former student who is an architect available for chat on Facebook. Dorothy Vy immediately researched the information I needed and provided me the links for Nader Khalili. The information on Khalili, the reconnection with my former students and the interest of the Rukhsana foundation prompted on me on my return California to visit Khalili’s demonstration site here in the Los Angeles regions high desert area of Hesperia. Not only did I get to exam the work of Khalili, but his son shared a Rumi Poetry story of a person who sojourned far from home for a treasure, only to be turned away at the location he dreamed the treasure was. Yet prior to leaving a stranger shared his dream of where he saw a treasure in the city that the sojourner came from. Upon the sojourners home return his family held a celebration for the safe return and as he shared the strangers dream he got up and discovered a treasure in his own back yard.  

During all the years of construction I never considered that I would return to the four primary elements of earth, water, air, and fire to perform the construction of houses.  In the researching of the process of ceramic structures I found a treasure in the beauty of mud structures that become transformed into ceramic structures. Having studied ceramics this ignited an internal sense that this was truly part of my life long endeavors. I found a doctoral dissertation online by Anupama Kundoo that extensively recorded the work of Ray Meeker an architect and ceramist that continued and expanded the work Khalili had started.

Be careful what you dream of because life will provide you the opportunity to fulfill your dreams. On November 29, 2010, I awoke at 4:00 am to start my week and I noticed a missed call on my mobile of a number I did not recognize but knew the number was from another region of the world. Accustom now to getting international calls I realized that was regarding Pakistan. I in my mind never anticipate who the caller was at all. When I began to listened to the voice mail message I was shocked that Anupama Kundoo wanted to personally connect with me regarding the work I and the Rukhsana foundation were preparing to perform on a demonstration structure in Lahore Pakistan.  Anupama has agreed to consult and possibly become part of the resurgence of work on constructing ceramic houses.

It was a simple time, sitting in the dirt of our families attempt at having a garden; using my Tonka truck and Tonka earth movers to begin the construction of a world from my imagination. I now at 47 years of age find myself returning to the dirt of this earth as a solution for homes to help people that desperately need a shelter that will withstand the test of time, rain, and the effects that the torment of nature can have on people.


2 thoughts on “Ceramic House Dreams

  1. I wish you well it’s an amazing idea if it can be made to work. I read the “Ceramic Architecture” book a long time and every now and then see if anyone has made it work reliably. I have an idea . Ray Meeker was using ash, clay, rice hull mix to insulate. If you could raise the insulation on the outside it would provide a even baking of the structure. I ran across Air Krete,
    It also withstands temperatures below 500°C (930°F) and has super insulating capacity. I know the price is high and most of these projects have little money. Maybe the Air Krete could be made into tiles. A Meeker style coating could be used and over this tiles of Air Krete and mud could be laid. The tiles of Air Krete being reusable.
    Another very strange idea is to build the house upside down. Yes upside down. You dig a hole the shape of the house in the ground. A mold. Place in the insulation material and some kind of ash release. Possibly glaze material to have a waterproof glazed outer roof. Place your clay for the roof and walls. Cover the hole like a normal kiln then fire. The idea being the roof would not have to support the load while fired so very high temps could completely fire the structure. The two ends of the ditch could be sand to be easily removed. Use levers to lift the house. Lift an inch and place blocking, another inch etc…. Some of the advantages of the upside down method are clay is easy to place, the clay is UNIFORM and easy to pack. You could build a foundation out of clay fired to the house. You would probably have to have that to lift it. The hole(mold) can be reused. Think about it. Disadvantages are digging a hole(although digging a hole may take less time than the skilled labor needed to lay the adobe blocks just right while in the air). Turning it over but you’ve worked in construction before. I’ve moved unbelievably heavy things with a 2″ x 6″. It’s amazing what you can move with a little blocking and a lever. Anyways wish you luck. Let me know how it comes out my email is in the post.

  2. One last silly idea. You could, instead of digging a hole, make a mold hill with sandbags right next to the resting place of the house. Fill the mold hill with dirt except for the house mold. Fill mold with clay and THE IMPORTANT part. The foundation instead of being straight would be a circle. To clarify it would stick up in the air like a spool you put wire on. Like the roof but only on two sides. Fire the house. Remove one side of the built up mold. Make sure a ditch is dug corresponding to the round foundation sticking up in the air. Just roll it right in place. Another advantage of the upside down method is you wouldn’t have to have a catenary shaped roof. The roof would be supported during firing so it wouldn’t need to be as strong. In developed countries this wouldn’t be cost effective but in the third world there’s lots of labor so all this extra shoveling would cost a lot less than expensive materials. Also the quality of clay could be less certain and since it’s packed and supported during firing it would probably still work. I have ideas even more horrible but I’ll stop.

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