Uncommon Building for Uncommon Good

Nearly a year after its Earth Day groundbreaking in April last year, Greenspace is nearing completion. Local non-profit Uncommon Good is constructing the eco-friendly building to be used as office space. 

The Greenspace structure is is made up of Superadobe, a medium developed by Nader Khalili, an architect and consultant both to NASA and the United Nations. This innovative technique uses mostly earth from the site of construction as raw material, thereby drastically reducing resource costs. Uncommon Good's website notes, “Ninety percent of the building materials will be on-site earth, and the resulting structure will have a zero carbon footprint.”

Michael Peel, Development Director of Uncommon Good, said that the organization chose to use Superadobe for several reasons. “To us preserving the planet and helping the poor are inseparable in terms of how important they are to each other," Peel said. "When resources are scarce, or there are environmental disasters, we find that it is the poor that suffer the most. The objectives of using Superadobe are caring for the environment and showing how using on-site resources is so low on cost.”

Uncommon Good has called upon the students of the Claremont Colleges to volunteer to help construct the building. Now that the basic structure of the building is up, Peel said that volunteers will be helping to plaster the building's exterior. 

"We will be doing that with the actual earth, making mud balls and using that to build the walls," Peel said. "We’d literally be getting our hands dirty!”

Uncommon Good has had a longstanding connection with the 5Cs. Uncommon Good's office is in close proximity to the colleges, allowing for easy communication between the students and the NPO’s administration.

According to Peel, Uncommon Good runs a mentoring program for high school students and more than half of the program's mentors are 5C students.

Uncommon Good is one of the six clients of Claremont McKenna College's (CMC) SOURCE consultant project. SOURCE provides free consulting services to NPOs. Peel is a CMC alum, and was an intern at Uncommon Good through the SOURCE program.

Lilian de Greef HM ’12 volunteered at Greenspace's construction site last Saturday, where volunteers created a system of mixing mortar "balls" and then tossed them to others stationed on the structure's top to smooth them into the roof's barrel-shaped arches. De Greef appreciated the Superadobe building technique. 

“Not only can you build them with cheap and easily available materials, but they also require very little labor. They are very good at insulating heat and they are fireproof. I know that the one built down in Pomona is earthquake-proof as well. So they are very good structurally,” de Greef said. 

In addition to helping with construction, students from Harvey Mudd College (HMC) and Pomona College have been involved in the design process. Uncommon Good’s website reported that the students "are working with the Claremont Environmental Design Group to create instruments and tests to measure the environmental impact of each phase of the building’s construction and, once finished, its operation.”

When the Greenspace project was first announced, Uncommon Good immediately invited students to help with the design of the building, and several students expressed their desire to become involved.

“I hope to contribute to the project by helping out with a portion of the research associated with calculating the carbon footprint of the building’s construction process,” said Hsuanwei Fan PO ’12. Fan believes Superadobe is well-suited to the Los Angeles area. 

“It is highly appropriate for our climate, since much of Southern California is, after all, desert-scape. Its ability to insulate is excellent, while the circular form and domes employed in the construction method make Superadobes much more resistant to earthquakes and other natural catastrophes,” he said.

Crystal Bong HM ’13 worked with an HMC-based research group last year to develop Greenspace. Bong researched types of sustainable flooring and a sustainable sifting method. 

“We think the Greenspace building is a great idea for a sustainable future,” Bong said.

Peel noted that when the community puts its resources together, a lot can be achieved. He added that Uncommon Good needs more volunteers and he hopes that more students from the 5Cs can chip in to finish Greenspace.