If Hassan Fathy is the father of sustainable architecture, then Nader Khalili must be his close cousin. The Egyptian and Iranian architects respectively grew up with an interest in housing poor populations and refugees with earth architecture and both made enormous contributions to the modern application of ancient building techniques. But Khalili, who spent much of his career in the United States and received awards from the Aga Khan Foundation, NASA, and the United Nations, veered down a particularly unconventional path.
Design with Rumi
Inspired by the mystic poet Rumi, timeless principles, and timeless materials, Khalili was renowned for his fixation on creating earth-based architecture with lunar and space applications, according to Arch1Design.
In 1984, he described to scientists at a NASA symposium called ““Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century” how to build “magma structures” based on the Geltaftan earth-and-fire ceramic system he founded. He was subsequently invited to the Los Alamos National Laboratory as a visiting scientist.
In addition to writing six books and translating over 300 Rumi poems into English, Khalili found time to initiate the Geltaftan Foundation in 1986 and the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture – CalEarth – in 1991.
He is also responsible for a host of uber-sustainable designs including a futuristic community for 5,000 people in New Cuyama, California, a 20,000 strong community in Isfahan, Iran, and several earth-bag shelters, in addition to well over 100 “normal” commercial and residential projects.
Earth bag structures
Khalili’s earth bag constructions are incredibly simple to build and within reach of people with even the most limited resources, which was always his aim. All that is necessary is to fill bags full of earth and lay them in a circular plan. According to the Aga Khan Foundation, “these shelters serve as a prototype for temporary housing using extremely inexpensive means to provide safe homes that can be built quickly and have the high insulation values necessary in arid climates.”
Despite being made from earth, air, water, and fire – the elements so crucial to Khalili’s metaphysics – these homes also include aesthetically-pleasing domes and arches and perform well in seismic conditions. Most importantly, a 14 square meter earth bag home costs little more than $4 to construct, the Aga Khan Foundation wrote in 1995. Today they will cost more, but not much.
Although technology has brought much progress and should not be discounted, Nader Khalili’s low cost and low-tech architecture is accessible to a greater portion of the population and may even be useful on the moon and out in space! This is what we call sustainable.
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