In 1984 NASA consulted with Iranian architect Nader Khalili on potential ways to fashion housing on the moon. His answer was to borrow from a technique long used in times of war as a quick way to build bunkers: structures built from sand filled bags. Although his story starts out sounding a bit sci-fi, Khalili's plans were firmly planted in the real world.
During the Gulf War, he took his theoretical "Earthbag" construction plans and made them a reality when he partnered with the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to construct his Eco Domes as refugee shelters.
He went on to found the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (Cal-Earth) where he taught the fundamentals of both the construction of the domes and his philosophy of ethically based architecture, a concept that places the need to shelter the homeless above financial gain.
Eco Domes have gained popularity because of their simple beauty as well as for their inexpensive and earth friendly construction. Built from earth-filled "Superadobe" coils and either cement or barbed wire, the domes can be erected by a small team of only 3 to 5 people. Although Khalili passed away in 2008, his vision is being shared in workshops and classes around the world.
During his lifetime, Khalili was greatly inspired by the 13th century poet Rumi, who put it best when he said: "earth turns to gold at the hands of the wise."
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(All images: Cal-Earth / Steve Besserman)