Hajjar Gibran Talks Domegaia
By Haley Nagasaki
Long-time builder and designer Hajjar Gibran is the founder of an original company offering alternative housing options that are affordable, sustainable, and incredibly beautiful. Domegaia quite literally bends the model of the common home. Its round, igloo-like structure is made from aircrete, a term coined by Gibran himself for an existing material that is a kind of concrete consisting of cement and air. This term was adopted by the public and is now gaining worldwide recognition.
Aircrete is a durable material developed in Sweden, although Hajjar Gibran and his team have been leading workshops and building demo homes on properties in warmer climates including Thailand, Mexico, and Hawaii. Because this material was originally developed in a colder Scandinavian climate, with proper reinforcement, there’s no reason why these progressive dome homes wouldn’t take off in a cooler climate like Canada. A layer of reinforcing fabric on the surface of the walls provides the structural integrity. Coupled with a fireplace and radiant floor heat, the domes would withstand the harshest elements.
The company originated when Gibran was working in Thailand and searching for new ways of building “high quality and elegant [structures that would] be low-cost and eco-friendly”. Prior to aircrete, or cellular concrete as it is also known, Gibran experimented with all kinds of materials like cinder and clay blocks, compressed earth blocks, cob, and adobe. He’d never worked with cement before, but found that cinder blocks were the cheapest material available in Thailand. Gibran learned from Thai workers how to build with cement, but was reluctant to construct traditional box houses, and decided to try a dome shape instead. Gibran found however that traditional concrete material was still not ideal, and through further research discovered cellular concrete, aerated concrete, or “aircrete” as he calls it.
Controversies exist regarding using Portland cement as a sustainable building material because it is a contributor to green house gases due to the intense heat it requires to bake. Cement is also considered a problem because we use it at such high volumes that it is having adverse effects on the environment. With aircrete however, you’re using air to stretch the building material, thereby “diminishing the [environmental] effects by expanding its volume with air”, says Gibran. There are more substitutes for Portland cement currently being developed, as well as other methods of making it more sustainable, but as it stands even hempcrete and compressed earth bricks contain Portland cement as a stabilizer. While discussing the unique substance, Gibran expressed how there are many benefits of using “liquid stone infused with air” as a building material. It is “insolating, light-weight, low cost, and you can do it yourself, [whereas] concrete is so much work; you have the expense but also the labour. To be able to mix up some soapsuds”, says Gibran laughing, “it’s just so easy to work with”.
Through Domegaia, Hajjar Gibran and his team offers the “Little Dragon”, a continuous foam generator. Coincidentally it is the Seventh Generation, environmentally friendly dish soap brand that works best for making foam. While they’ve tried other, more expensive foaming agents, nothing appears to work better than dish detergent. Gibran and his team hold workshops all over the world where people have expressed interest in learning to build these homes by themselves. Their next workshop will take place in Olympia, Washington, on August first through the eleventh. Gibran and his team also plan to create a video training this year so that anyone interested can see how easy it is to build.
There are several different methods of building with aircrete. The time it takes to build a structure also varies widely depending on the number of people working coupled with the chosen method. While laying aircrete bricks is more laborious and time consuming, you can also use flat panels, 6ft wide by 8ft tall for instance, lain on the ground, filled with aircrete, and then set up very quickly. Another successful method they’ve used in recent workshops is fabric forming the aircrete. This method entails creating the form of the dome out of double-walled fabric, and then pouring the aircrete in between, as though you were filling a blanket. “You end up with a combination of the compressive strength of the aircrete inside, and the tensile strength of the fabric membrane on the surface; that composite material has super strength”. The fabric reinforces the aircrete walls, and provides a finished exterior that only then needs to be painted.
This method works great says Gibran, and while they’ve only begun testing it on smaller structures, they plan to use the fabric forming on larger domes in the near future. The structures do not need to be small however, as “domes are self-supporting. Some of the largest structures in the world are domes”. Using one of the quicker methods, two people could spend no more than a month or two building a dome. Now Gibran and his team are searching for further efficiency “so that it could be done in just a couple of days”.
Aircrete, or cellular concrete, is not a new concept; even some skyscrapers in Bangkok are built with the material. Although what sets Hajjar Gibran and the Domegaia team apart from the existing market is that they are active members of the global community, making the material “available to the do-it-yourself builder at an affordable price. The equipment is affordable and the designs are unique”, says Gibran. These days Hajjar Gibran lives in Hawaii where he plans to build his home. The area in which he lives is known for its appeal to a certain crowd of people interested in “low cost housing, ‘back to the land’, and community building”: a perfect setting for the developmental stages of this young company absolutely bursting with potential.
Looking ahead, I asked Hajjar Gibran what he envisions for the future of Domegaia. He expressed a willingness to spark a movement where people may come together in groups and build houses for each other. “I’d like to see this happening all over the world, using this unique technology to build high quality houses at extremely low costs”. As Gibran receives tons of interest from the Canadian market, specifically from British Columbia, the possibilities of hosting a workshop, in this naturally synergistic location, becomes an exciting possibility for all of us here! Thank you, Hajjar, for speaking with me!