In “Racing Alone”, the late Iranian earth architect Nader Khalili who died in 2008 recounts the years leading to the realization of his dream; building a dwelling that infuses Persian culture, history, art, and ingeniousness, and a structure that promises the utility of withstanding the tremors of earthquakes and revolutions, heat and cold.
His material: fire, air, water and earth.
In his journey, Nader initially struggles with infiltrating westernized architectural dogmas, experienced technocrats, iron and cement, bureaucracy, and imported expectations. Ironically his toils subsequently start to breakthrough in 1979, as the Iranian revolution begins.
In September 1978, a 3 minute earthquake in Tabas, central Iran, claimed over 15,000 lives and activated a wave of social unrest which ignited the Iranian revolution. The earthquake turned out to be a blessing for Nader’s dream, the damage caused by the earthquake is an opportunity to gain the trust of affected communities, to rebuild safer homes using fired clay, and bring back Iranian knowledge and architecture to the Iranians.
“The greatest problem in rehabilitating the village is not the money, the manpower, or the material, it is rehabilitation from an imported shock. To reverse all this fatal propaganda that results in the blind copying of the ways of the capital city and in losing respect for their own values will need a revolution by itself,” he said.
And so Nader shifts gears and begins his own revolution, on his motorbike, along the dusty roads of Iran.
Nader always had a vision, a dream, which like many of us, he didn’t “dare to share with others until it can be shown in a solid form”. How to get there and what exactly the endpoint would be, he didn’t know; but the feeling, which one could call faith, gave him the courage to “race alone”.
Destiny makes him stumble across the solution; a practical, traditional, and beautiful solution, which had been lost and nearly forgotten but which Nader and his friend Ali Aga enthusiastically and impatiently try to recapture and animate.
Nader was naïve, passionate, a dreamer, a romantic and a believer in the truth of simplicity. If you love Iran, and know what it feels like to have a dream,“Racing Alone” is an extremely enjoyable and heartwarming autobiography.
Top image of Nader Khalili via Quadiri Rifai