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Nader Khalili: The Practical Visionary

Written by Cindy Marie Jenkins on Tuesday, March 6th, 2018 at 1:01pm.

Welcome to #TastemakerTuesday, where we feature the visionaries in our favorite nooks who are dedicated to building a better community through their talents.

“The four elements are four strong pillars

that support the roof of this present world.”


“No one can prove there is a meaning to life. I must make my own life meaningful. That is all.”

-Nader Khalili

We do not yet know the full impact of architect, philosopher and designer of the future, Nader Khalili. People here on earth were only partially ready for his ideas, and it took those at NASA, looking ahead to space habitation, to understand how innovative and useful his legacy will be.

Ten years ago today, Nader Khalili passed while holding his family’s hands, leaving to them a legacy of Superadobe structures that can help the poorest of our world. He believed that using only the elements that our earth offers - earth, wind, water and fire - and some basic principles of architecture - arches, vaults and domes - that he could construct sustainable shelters in a manageable way after emergencies. This practice started during the Iran War to house refugees quickly. Working with the United Nations Development Program and the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees, these fourteen modest buildings won the 1004 Aga Khan Award for Architecture and could have sparked a revolution in the ways we approach housing for the poor and displaced. To build Superadobe, you fill a woven bag with sand or dirt, even clay if that is the best material you have nearby. Specific laying methods stabilized by barbed wire can rise to fifteen feet, and are shaped to include windows and doors. Superadobe is an incredibly useful process using just those few materials, as opposed to tents and other items that usually need to be paid for and then shipped, a process that can take quite a while depending on infrastructure. As Brain Ackley states in his essay on Khalili and Superadobe, “Despite its undeniable advantages, Superadobe’s fundamental promise — mass housing for the poor — is a vision shared by few in a position to do something about it.”

After working on a prototype for NASA, he founded the Cal-Earth Institute, whose mission since 1975 has “been dedicated to researching and developing this low-cost, self-help, eco-friendly technology which can resist disasters, and to offer it to humanity. The only missing link is to educate humans how to use these timeless techniques, developed at Cal-Earth Institute, to fit their own culture and environment.”

Khalili’s children carry on his work at the Cal-Earth Institute, and more can be read in his books: Racing Alone, Ceramic Houses and Earth Architecture: How to Build Your Own and Sidewalks on the Moon. If you seek an understanding of the philosophy behind his architecture, you might want to look at his translations of Rumi: Rumi, Fountain of Fire and Rumi, Dancing the Flame. The influence of poetry on his life cannot be overstated, as Khalili himself said:

“The only way you can survive with idealism is to be in constant touch with poetry, and that poetry should not be brushed aside by practicalities or viabilities or economics. This is what the juice of survival is-always being in touch with poetry.”

We’re certainly fans of the poetry inherent in every architectural, which you can enjoy on our app even if you aren’t actively searching for a new home.

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