During her time at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin West, Maya Ward-Karet took part in a design/build program to complete a desert shelter. Her resulting Helixa Shelter was built for just $812 and it features a robust earthbag construction that curves to protect the inhabitat while still allowing for interaction with the Sonoran desert.
Each year a number of students at Taliesin take part in the design/build shelter program in order to get a hands-on learning experience in building what they design. Many students as of late are building more sustainable projects that carefully consider their materials and show a deep respect for the surrounding desert environment. Ward-Karet wanted to gain some real world experience in the earthbag construction method while building in a manner that was in keeping with the surroundings. With a budget of $1,000, she designed and built the Helixa Shelter using earthbags, adobe, sunbrella fabric, and scraps from the architecture school.
The form of the earthen shelter is like a seashell, which opens up to the light of dawn and provides shade from the hot desert sun with a half-dome awning. The earthbags and adobe walls provide thermal mass to soak up the heat and release it back at night as the desert cools down. A protected sleeping area sits at the center of the shelter’s spiral, and seating at the opening of the shelter provides space to socialize.