Natural Building Blog

Earthbag Building & Other Natural Building Methods

Steve’s Thailand Dome Home

Steve’s Thailand Dome Home

Steve’s Thailand Dome Home


“On a large organic mango farm, far into the countryside of northeastern Thailand, I have designed and built my little dome home. Enjoy the tour! And if you would like to see the creation of my home, click here.

Steve’s dome home has many design ideas that could be used in a home built with more sustainable materials.

Steve’s dome home has many design ideas that could be used in a home built with more sustainable materials.


In 2011 I had a wonderful visit with my friend Hajjar. For years he has inspired me with his creative ideas. This time it was dome building. Hajjar, who’s actually my brother in-law’s brother, was using a pivoting arm to help create a perfect sphere. He and his wife offered me a spot on their large mango farm to build my own dome. Well, in about six weeks, my worker Tao and I, along with an occasional third worker, had my dome house up and painted. The cost for the basic structure was under $6000. It took a few more months to add the details, such as doors, screens, shelves, pond, gazebo, stonework and landscaping. All this, including furnishings, filtered well water and hot water, was under $3000. Bringing my total cost to about $9,000. Along with affordability, not having building codes and inspectors was also pretty sweet. Enjoy the pics and if you have any question please feel free to contact me.” Cheers, Steve

Steve Areen.com

Note: Steve’s dome home is made with concrete block (not very sustainable) and low fired brick (low impact material). His home is featured here on our Natural Building Blog for its striking design aesthetic. So in this instance Steve’s house could have been built much more sustainably if he’d gone entirely with low fired brick.

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31 Responses to “Steve’s Thailand Dome Home”

  1. Yeounwoo says:

    Literally beautiful.
    Especially the pond is just what I’ve wanted for the house I want to build in the future.

  2. Charles law says:

    We are going to start building dome houses soon and will test Econ blocks and Clay blocks and concrete foam and test what is the best for keeping out the heat. We are looking for help with Ideas as well about all types dome house construction.
    And looking for Suppliers to make Round windows and make Arch Door Frames and doors

    We are based in UdonThani Thailand

  3. Craig A says:

    I would like to know what is unsustainable about cement block. It is sand, and all ingredients for cement are also dug out of the ground. That is very sustainable in my thinking. This could be done with adobe of course but it would require a lot of man hours making the adobe. Cement block is cheap and in countries like Thailand is a very preferred material.

    Never ceases to amaze me how “holier than thou” you people are. I would call this design a very living with nature design.

    Keep up the good work whoever approved this design and let the elite’s with pointy noses yell.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      The problem is the production of cement causes very serious environmental problems. It takes an enormous amount of energy to produce cement. Research the term ‘embodied energy’. Cement is one of the worst offenders. That said, builders need to find a balance. At this time most earthbag buildings are plastered with cement plaster. It works great and lasts a long time. Lime plaster and earth plaster are other good choices. So every builder has to weigh the pros and cons of each material and decide what is best for their project.

  4. Max says:

    Don’t stop at being worried by earthquakes: Think rain!

    One of the most known adobe and dome builders, Ken Kern, had just closed his adobe dome on same day he had a fall-out with his wife. He went and slept in his unfinished dome. A rainstorm started during the night. Ken never woke up to tell about it.
    Building domes with concrete or earth: both unsustainable, although due to different reasons.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      There’s more to it than that. Earth domes (adobe domes) are very sustainable and practical in desert climates. The problems arise when adobe domes are built in rainier climates.

      I believe Ken Kern was killed when his reed roof collapsed. Source?

      • Jay says:

        Bringing up Ken Kern in this discussion is a low blow.

        Ken Kern’s death was a tragedy. Trying to exploit his death to make a point about a particular style of architecture is a complete non-sequitur.

        My recollections of the circumstances surrounding Ken’s death was that it was a failure of temporary scaffolding intended to hold things together during construction, not the failure of the design or the style of the building.

        Sadly, scaffolding failures and other construction accidents are all too common. In many large construction projects entire teams of engineers are employed simply to design the scaffolding systems used to erect structures.

        If someone doesn’t like domes, I have no problem with them expressing their opinions.

        If someone doesn’t like domes and attempts to drag a dead man’s reputation through the mud to make a point, then I object, and I object in the strongest of terms.

        Exploiting the tragedy that caused Ken’s death to attempt to score personal points on the internet about a style of construction is reprehensible.

  5. Owen Geiger says:

    New video of Steve’s dome home in Thailand:

  6. Max says:

    Really Owen, what is this about? You call it ‘Natural Building blog’ and yet you feature a concrete dome painted to look like earthen plaster.

    Yes it’s very artistic.
    …But would you like 100 more links to artistic concrete constructions? There’s loads out there and you know it.

    I am happy that Steve is admitting to the issue and plans to go CEB on the next, but I’d much prefer if you deleted this article and simply featured the next one then…

    Fact is that by promoting this one, you feed the dreaming masses. You teach folks to want something which can not be made naturally. This works against what a lot of us natural builders are about. I makes the honorable educational battle which good folks like Kelly, you, Oliver Swann and many others are waging so much longer, as we have yet another false image to argue against.

    What’s next, a feature on Hobbiton? Please….

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151415333243907&set=a.10150577417188907.385789.676853906&type=1&theater

    • Owen Geiger says:

      I think you’re overreacting. This is the first and only time I’ve published a house with nonsustainable materials, and I clearly state why I did so. Two readers recommended Steve’s dome and I routinely respond to reader’s requests. The result was a huge spike in traffic. I’m now in communication with Steve who is starting an ecoresort out of sustainable materials (probably CEBs). (Baby steps, baby steps. We’re all learning.) And let’s be honest. All those who have never looked at unsustainable homes for design ideas, raise your hand.

  7. Oliver Swann says:

    Owen,

    I published this [https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151415333243907] in Talking Natural Homes [http://naturalhomes.org/talking] before I discoverd your article. At some point I am going to publish these side-by-side comparrisons more widely, both on my facebook page [https://www.facebook.com/naturalhomes] and my website [http://naturalhomes.org/] to mitigare the damage publications like yours are having.

    People don’t read. They just share and associate with a trusted brand. The consequence beyond your article is a desire for unsustainable homes.

    Oliver

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Same comment as above:
      I think you’re overreacting. This is the first and only time I’ve published a house with nonsustainable materials, and I clearly state why I did so. Two readers recommended Steve’s dome and I routinely respond to reader’s requests. The result was a huge spike in traffic. I’m now in communication with Steve who is starting an ecoresort out of sustainable materials (probably CEBs). (Baby steps, baby steps. We’re all learning.) And let’s be honest. All those who have never looked at unsustainable homes for design ideas, raise your hand.

  8. Oliver Swann says:

    Since you moderate these comments it’s safe to tell you that because of your publication here I am finding this home republished (via you) on pages who trust this house qualifies as natural building. e.g.

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151623243399224

    You are makeing a massive mistake and loosing all credibility.

    So sad!

  9. Uma says:

    I am wildly in love with this dome & with Steve’s muse both. I hope he experiments with the earthbag style of building. I’d be interested in an article that discusses guidelines for breaking guidelines. For instance, the buttressing ratio per width of arch ratio, that keeps the building secure in earthquake country. Sometimes, it’s stifling rather than freeing when we’re warned to keep our arches to a certain size, or our buttresses every whatever. What are the rules, and how do we break them safely, yet retain creativity like Steve was able to do with his? I’d love a large arched window like Steves incorporated safely into an EB… (I hope this makes sense)

    • Owen Geiger says:

      This has to be done on a case by case basis. Talk to building professionals in your area.

      In general, pounding rebar down through the bags or on the exterior (see ‘external pinning’ blog post) will allow for greater spans/wider windows. Large arches like Steve’s could only be safely done in seismic zones with reinforced concrete and engineering.

  10. Owen Geiger says:

    Hi Owen!
    Fun to see my dome home on your blog!
    I agree, the only bummer is the use of concrete blocks.
    Just wanted you to know that we now have a earth block press down on the farm and plan to start creation of even more beautiful structures that are more sustainable.
    Once we have the whole compressed earth block dome thing happening and we are happy with the results, we hope to help others build their own.
    Thanks again for showing interest in my dome home and for having a such an awesome blog! Cheers! Steve Areen

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Earth blocks are a good choice. Earth block building has been supported for nearly 40 years by the king and now Thailand is one of the leading countries in this technology. There are probably a few thousand small earth block making shops (open air eucalyptus pole sheds covered with metal roofing) in Thailand. The block making equipment is top notch. Earlier blog posts that talk about this can be found by using the built-in search engine. (Search CEB Thailand, etc.)

      Building domes with earth blocks: I would use thinner (about 5-6cm), flat rectangular earth blocks rather than the typical sizde interlocking blocks in Thailand (too heavy and hard to handle). Some brands of CEB machines can be adapted to make this type block. Ideally all faces would be roughed to improve bonding with mortar and plaster. (Add grooves to the block press.) This is similar to how Hassan Fathy, world class architect, built domes in Egypt. (He has a great book.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hassan_Fathy

      You could make earth blocks with holes in them to reduce weight and improve insulation value. (Similar to standard earth blocks in Thailand.) Add 10% or so cement or lime for strength.

      Ideally you would add a roof something like this in rainy climates to protect against mold and improve indoor temps: http://www.naturalbuildingblog.com/landtrees-net-roof-for-our-cacao-dome/

      You could also use all low fired brick. They’re low cost and readily available. They’re often fired with rice hulls and so use very little energy.

  11. Craig from Maine says:

    So awesome :)

    • Owen Geiger says:

      This is the only concrete block house we’ve ever profiled. That speaks volumes. I especially like the aesthetic details. He’s a true artist. No doubt this home will end up in a home design magazine and be posted on countless websites and blogs.

  12. joshua says:

    Hi Owen.

    This is one of the most beautiful homes I have seen on your website or anywhere. It is like a mini Palais Bulles.

    I have a few questions though. Wouldn’t this sort of home be a disaster in a seismic area? Or would the dome shape mitigate the fact that the structure isn’t reinforced?

    Also, wouldn’t you need to build this in a dry climate? It seems to me that no one has really solved the problem of waterproofing a dome in a rainy climate.

    Great post.

    • Owen Geiger says:

      Concrete block houses are notorious for collapsing in earthquakes and crushing the inhabitants. This situation is especially dangerous in poor areas where people can’t afford rebar and adequate cement. (They often use a weak mix with insufficient cement.) NE Thailand has low risk of earthquakes though. The main problem as you’ve pointed out is moisture protection. Concrete and low fire brick are highly moisture resistant. The main challenges are preventing roof leaks and mold on the outer surface. Even though the home looks great now, in a few years mold will start growing on the outside. You have to clean the dome regularly and repaint or soon the house will be black with mold.

    • Jay says:

      I suggest looking at the construction photos on Steve’s website.

      It appears to me that Steve added at least some reinforcement (rebar?) on the interior surface of the blocks and then embedded that reinforcement in plaster.

      I’m not certain that the reinforcement was engineered to seismic standards, but there does seem to be at least some present.

      • Owen Geiger says:

        I didn’t say rebar was not added. I was just saying many concrete block (and adobe) structures don’t have sufficient rebar and often collapse in earthquakes.

        I look forward to seeing their earth block projects. Combine his artistic talent with more sustainable lower cost materials and they could end up with a world class project.

        • Jay says:

          I guess I should have made it more obvious that I was replying to Joshua.

          He is the one that mentioned reinforcement and seismic concerns.

          • Owen Geiger says:

            And I could have been more clear, sorry.

          • joshua says:

            Thanks. I will check those construction pics out. I just think those domes, especially artistic ones like this one are such beautiful buildings, and then almost immediately, I start worrying about earthquakes.

            I experienced a 7.3 quake once and the bad ones freak people out for weeks after.

            Also, I always do worry about the domes and moisture, and as Owen said, this is a worry.

            I guess you could thatch a dome, like this one:

            http://everyhouseatonce.tumblr.com/tagged/thatched%20roof

          • Owen Geiger says:

            Thatch is another option. The good kind takes a lot of labor. The inexpensive, fast kind (thatch panels) only last a few years.

  13. Jay says:

    If Steve had been leading all the King’s horses and all the King’s men, Humpty would have survived.

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