Bringing community back to the front yard

By: Daniel Montaño

A construction project taking place behind CNM’s main campus on Buena Vista Drive and St. Cyr Avenue is intended to create friendships, com­munity, sustainability and a super-adobe eco-dome, said Mitchell Olson, former CNM Art major.

Olson is one of the many volunteers partici­pating in the construc­tion. He said that the dome is part of a larger project within the apart­ment complex that will include many sustainable, eco-friendly aspects.

“We’re talking about beekeeping, gardens on the roof, water cisterns, community gardens, solar energy and integration with the public,” he said.

The dome itself is the hands-on portion of a work­shop taught by Biko Casini, a guest instructor at Cal-Earth Institute, who said that he has built similar structures in Australia, West Africa, India and Europe.

Casini’s workshops focus on sustainable, green building practices and advanced energy solutions, and he said that the project also emphasizes the changes that can be made when people join together as a community in friendship.

“It’s very much an exer­cise in corrective synergy and what happens when you get a group of people who are motivated together. You can actually physically change and move the earth around,” Casini said.

Jesse Kalapa, owner of the building where construction is taking place, purchased the 10-unit rental property six years ago and said that at that time the building had a poor reputation for vagrancy and drug use.

Kalapa said he has been working to change this stigma ever since he purchased the property, and this commu­nity project is just one among many steps to build a self -sustaining eco-village in the University Heights area.

“Well, my primary inten­tion for the property is that it’s the world’s most renowned model of sustainability. That’s a big goal but it’s coming to fruition through steps like this,” he said.

Kalapa also hopes to open his property up to the uni­versity community by estab­lishing an accredited course in partnership with UNM or CNM that will focus on sus­tainable building practices, he said.

If Kalapa’s proposed part­nership works out, he plans on turning one of the apart­ments into a live-in labora­tory, he said.

“Someone could live there for a week or a month and learn the basic techniques of sustainability,” he said.

Most community envi­ronments similar to theS one Kalapa is building tend to focus on growing and selling vegetables to bring an income to the community, but Kalapa said he wants to use waste products within the urban environment as a major con­tributor to his project.

Kalapa gained experi­ence with building solar panels from scrap materi­als during a trip he took to Ghana, and said that he plans on using waste mate­rials like glass to build the solar panels that will be included in the final project.

“So I’m looking at resources a little bit differ­ently than some hippy com­mune that’s growing corn and selling tomatoes at the grow­ers market. I think that’s great and wonderful but I also have an element of permaculture, taking advantage of the resources at hand,” Kalapa said.

All of the struc­ture’s components exceed building requirements. Kalapa met with city planners and zoning committee, and he said the super-adobe structure is con­sidered a flexible form of a stabilized rammed earth structure under building codes, and that he is pur­posely leaving a five-foot opening in the top of the dome in order to meet building requirements.

“So it’s not considered a structure, it’s a garden wall,” Kalapa said.

Those looking to be a part of the community are more than welcome to simply walk up and speak to anyone at the construction site, Kalapa said

For more information on super-adobe construction, visit, or to vol­unteer check out the proj­ect’s facebook page at face­ For information on renting an apartment, e-mail jesseka­

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