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Constructing the Whole Earth Building was a dirty job

April 13, 2013|By Bettina Boxall
  • The patio of the Whole Earth Building in Claremont. The building was constructed mostly with on-site materials.
The patio of the Whole Earth Building in Claremont. The building was constructed… (Carlos Carrillo )

It took a lot of muscle to build the Whole Earth Building in Claremont, not to mention mud balls, sandbags and dirty hands.

Opening April 20, the new headquarters of the nonprofit organization Uncommon Good has an uncommon green pedigree.

The 2,500-square-foot building is a marriage of the ancient and high-tech.  A series of domed rectangular structures, it was constructed by hand with dirt dug from the site. A passive solar design will help warm rooms. Photovoltaics will light them.

The depression left by earth excavation was shaped into a stream bed to catch storm water. Native plants, growing in 40 tons of rock and soil hauled in buckets, will provide a rooftop garden. Gray water from the building will be used for landscape irrigation.

“What we were trying to do was to take into account the entire ecosystem in the construction and operation of the building,” said Nancy Mintie, executive director of Uncommon Good, a community development organization that works with low-income families.

Hundreds of volunteers, including members of the University of Redlands football team, did most of the construction work.

The building's walls, 3 to 5 feet thick, are made of stacked sandbags stuffed with earth seasoned with cement to bind the soil. The arched roof was constructed with millions of mud balls tossed to helpers who pressed them onto removable metal arches.  All told, 85% of the construction material is from the site.

The building, located on the grounds of the Claremont United Methodist Church and designed by the Claremont Environmental Design Group, cost roughly $1 million. Most of that came from a clean air grant distributed as part of an oil company’s legal settlement.


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