Moroccan Startup Builds Affordable Homes from Soil, Combining Tradition and Technology

Moroccan Startup Builds Affordable Homes from Soil, Combining Tradition and Technology

Eco-dôme Maroc utilizes local traditions and modern technology to construct eco-friendly, energy-efficient dome-shaped buildings.

In Morocco, a startup called Eco-dôme Maroc is revolutionizing the construction industry by building affordable homes using a material that is abundant and readily available: soil. Founded in 2016, the company combines local traditions with modern technology to create dome-shaped buildings that are not only cheaper but also more environmentally sustainable and energy-efficient compared to regular concrete homes. By adapting traditional earthen construction techniques to contemporary methods, Eco-dôme Maroc aims to provide eco-friendly and rapid housing solutions for a variety of needs.

Analyzing Soil Composition and Thermal Simulation:

Each home built by Eco-dôme Maroc is unique and tailored to the specific site. The first step in the construction process is to analyze the soil composition on-site to determine its suitability for building. Small quantities of lime or cement can be added to optimize performance. Thermal simulation models are then employed to determine the ideal thickness of the dome’s walls, ensuring efficient heat absorption during summer and heat release during winter. This design allows the buildings to use minimal energy for heating and cooling, sometimes eliminating the need for additional energy sources altogether.

Cost-Effectiveness and Rapid Construction:

Founder Youness Ouazri, a civil engineer, highlights the speed and cost-effectiveness of eco-domes compared to standard homes. Prices range from approximately 2,500 Moroccan dirhams ($247) to 4,500 dirhams ($445) per square meter, depending on soil composition and site conditions. Ouazri explains that eco-domes can be up to a third cheaper than regular homes due to the elimination of raw material acquisition and associated logistics. By utilizing local soil, the company reduces costs and transportation requirements significantly.

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Innovative Construction Techniques:

Eco-dôme Maroc employs various construction techniques, including the use of “superadobe” and wooden frames. The superadobe method, developed by Iranian American architect Nader Khalili in the 1980s, involves stacking polypropylene bags filled with soil. This technique creates a dome-shaped structure. Alternatively, wooden frames can be used to achieve a rectangular floor plan. These innovative methods allow for flexibility in design while maintaining the eco-friendly and energy-efficient principles of the company.

Expanding Beyond Morocco:

Having completed over 100 domes across 40 different sites, Eco-dôme Maroc now aims to expand its operations to other countries. The startup is currently exploring opportunities in Tunisia and the Ivory Coast. The company’s three main types of clients include landowners seeking eco-friendly homes, investors in rural tourism, and local authorities and communities interested in building schools and other infrastructure.

Challenges and Cultural Barriers:

Youssef El Ganadi, a professor of architecture at the International University of Rabat, acknowledges the project as an intriguing example of “frugal innovation” that aims to provide affordable homes for all social categories. However, he notes that the uptake of these homes has been limited due to a cultural preference for concrete structures, which are perceived as more modern and robust. Ganadi also raises concerns about the earthquake resistance of superadobe domes, particularly in regions prone to seismic activity.

Conclusion:

Eco-dôme Maroc’s innovative approach to construction offers a sustainable and cost-effective solution to housing needs. By combining traditional earthen construction techniques with modern technology, the company has created energy-efficient and environmentally friendly dome-shaped homes. While cultural barriers and concerns about earthquake resistance persist, attitudes are slowly shifting as more people recognize the benefits of eco-friendly and durable housing solutions. As Eco-dôme Maroc looks to expand its operations beyond Morocco, its unique approach has the potential to transform the construction industry in other countries, providing affordable and sustainable homes for diverse communities.

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