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Architecture Misfit #12: Nader Khalili

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Nader Khalili (1936–2008)

Nader Khalili is a good example of an architecture misfit. He really only had one idea. Put whatever sandy stuff is available, into bags, clad it and bingo you have a structure. In 1984 NASA was suitably impressed.

In 1984, Lunar and Space habitation became an integral part of his work. He presented his “Magma Structures” design, based on Geltaftan System, and “Velcro-Adobe” system (later to become Superadobe) at the 1984 NASA symposium, “Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century.” He was subsequently invited to Los Alamos National Laboratory as a visiting scientist. 

Later however, he devoted his energies to the problem of how to build shelters for people in the world who have no money and the earthbag building is what he came up with. You’ve probably read about them sometime in the past several years. It difficult to think of a better solution to emergency or ultra-low cost housing.

The principle is simple. 1) Put sand into long bags and use them to make curved walls that act as their own stabilisers.


2) Make spaces for openings as you wish.


3) The earthbag curves are laid in gradually decreasing radii to form domes.

4) The entire thing is finished according to your local stucco and culturo-personal preference.

The construction method is infinitely variable, durable, earthquake resistant, thermally impressive and, above all, dirt cheap. It requires little skilled knowledge or labour to build. The most expensive component is the bags and the barbed wire [ ! ] that is ingeniously used to increase friction between the bags.


What’s not to like? In the world of glossy architecture, possibly all of the above despite the fact that the system can also be used to construct some conventionally appealing spaces and in some conventionally appealing shapes

EarthBag Home -10

and that have some fairly complex spatial arrangements.


No disrespect intended to Calearth,


but the Californification of Khalili’s system for off-grid living should not be allowed to overshadow its fundamental humanitarian purpose of providing low-cost and/or emergency housing.



So then, Nader Khalili

You created a system that enables anyone
with some earthbags and land, to build a dwelling
that is sturdy, durable and comfortable.
For services to architecture and humanity

misfits salutes you!


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POSTSCRIPT: Acoustic suppression is not normally considered a major indicator of building performance but, apparently, Khalili’s structures reduce external noise by 17dB. Today’s Guardian reported that Heathrow airport is to pay 21 local schools to build Khalili’s “superadobe” shelters.

Pupils of Hounslow Heath school play around the huts in the playground as another low jet flies in

How this works out to £85,000 per school suggests someone is paying through the nose. Never trust those London builders’ quotes!