This really must be the ultimate in green architecture. Iranian-born architect Nader Khalili has developed a building method that costs almost nothing, and draws entirely on natural materials. His inspiration came back in 1975, when, as a successful architect in Tehran, he became disillusioned with the work he was obliged to do, which meant replacing traditional Persian architecture with Western steel and concrete. He sold his share in the company, bought a motorcycle and headed off into the desert on a personal mission of discovery, hoping to find a way of preserving traditional Persian heritage whilst creating affordable housing for the nation’s poor.


In a remote village, Khalili found the inhabitants living outdoors, as the vaulted roofs of their raw clay homes were crumbling. Just outside the village was an old tile-firing kiln, with a vaulted roof, like those of the village houses, but which was intact. He realised that over thousands of firings, the clay bricks had been fused by the firings into a sold shell, which had withstood all of the same climate and earthquakes that had caused the villagers’ homes to collapse. He experimented with one of the houses, repairing the holes and then firing it with kerosene gravity fed from the roof. After three days’ firing, the structure was as good as the kiln, and he went on to fire all the other homes in the village.


He has since gone on to develop plans and instructions for similar, vaulted and domed buildings, that have attracted interest from the United Nations. Realising that such homes would be needed in areas where people would not have access to fuels for firing, he hit upon the idea of using sandbags to build, and barbed wire as cement. This was the particular stroke of genius – actually using the detritus of war for reconstruction. NASA have also been interested in Khalili’s brilliance in designing buildings made entirely from local materials, in the hope of using his plans for building on the moon.


Working nowadays at Cal-Earth (The California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture), which he founded as a non-profit organisation to promote environmentally friendly art and architecture, his inventiveness has been compared to Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster-Fuller.

His structures are not only strong, durable and ecologically sound. They are sympathetic with the environment visually, too. Reminiscent of the trulli houses in Alborobello, Italy, they have a sort of naturalistic tranquillity.


Despite the lofty comparisons, Khalili credits his greatest inspiration to nature’s smaller architects; “To me, the greatest builders are those little creatures in the sea that make seashells”, he says. “Their shells, their homes, have the best texture, the best colors, the best forms. They are waterproof, yet they are created only from water. If we as humans understand and realize our own potential, we should be able to do just that. We should be able to mold the earth into its best and most beautiful form without the need to cut trees and destroy the environment. It is shameful that we call ourselves made in the image of God, and yet we have to destroy everything to build our little houses.”




  1. 1 frankschulteladbeck November 8, 2007 at 11:47 am

    Thank you for the interesting topic. I was not aware of the firing process on this type of structure; I knew of the stucco like material being applied. If your readers are interested in other creative, local solutions to building, they should go to the website for the OpenArchitecture group. It is truly amazing what can be developed at relatively low cost which is more sustainable.

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