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From the San Bernardino Sun

By Chuck Mueller, Staff Writer

Housing Cure for Homeless?

Area architect's design draws Senegal's attention

San Bernardino Sun
Nader Khalili
Cal-Earth architect and founder Nader khalili sits between a couple of his adobe homes in Hesperia. The government of Senegal, West Africa, wants to build 20,000 homes for displaced flood victims using Khalili's design.

Thursday, April 11, 2002 - Architect Nader Khalili's vision of a city for the homeless built of sandbags and wire could become a reality in West Africa.

The government of Senegal wants to build a town of roughly 20,000 houses using Khalili's innovative design for bee-hive-shaped adobe dwellings.

The Iranian-American architect calls his method of construction "Superadobe."

"The proposed Senegal project is very important," said Khalili, who has constructed prototypes of the circular, dome-shaped houses at his California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture - better known as Cal-Earth - in Hesperia.

"We're teaching people from all over the world about Superadobe construction and expect to train many who would go to Senegal," the 64-year-old architect said.

Khalili and his architectural partner, Iliona Outram, spent 10 days in Senegal in late February and early March to discuss the proposed "eco city" with government officials.

"We met with the ministers of urbanism, finance and education about building a new city using the Superabode method," Khalili said. "They are very enthusiastic, and would make use of local labor and materials at the site chosen."

Sengalese President Abdoulaye Wade heard of Khalili's work at a time his nation was looking for ways to help thousands of people displaced by severe flooding in northern provinces in January.

Wade invited Khalili to Senegal and said land would be made available in or near the nation's capital, Dakar.

"I am interested in building a new city with this method," Wade told the Reuters news agency.

He said better housing is a pressing issue for Senegal, especially after the floods.

One of the attractions of the Khalili system is its relative simplicity and low cost, Wade said. By using the Superadobe method, people in Senegal could build their own homes with local labor and materials close at hand.

"This type of construction is adaptable to our traditional construction, the African hut," Wade said.

Building a Superadobe StructureHe plans to seek financial assistance for the project, which could cost $50‚million, through the World Bank or European Union. Water and sewer service and roads would be the most expensive elements of the project.

Superadobe construction uses sand-filled tubes of woven polyester, placed one on top of another, with strands of barbed wire between the layers to reinforce the structure. It needs no timber for support.

"The houses are expected to cost about 50 percent less than houses of similar standard built by other methods," Khalili said. "They would cost about $1,000 per inhabitant."

If the development moves forward in Senegal, it would be the first of its kind on a large scale.

Khalili and Outram were joined in Senegal by Khalili's brother, Nasser Khalili, a specialist in infrastructure. All were touched by the plight of the people during their visit to the nation's flood-ravaged north.

"The solution to their housing needs seems so close at hand," Nader Khalili said. "They need to know how a sensible design can save them from the next flood or natural disaster."

He said about 90 percent of the material, including clay, sand and lime for cement slurry, would be available at the town site.

"This is a very important project and really can be a breakthrough," the architect said.

Superadobe

Nader Khalili and Outram teach the Superadobe system at their Cal-Earth Institute, opened in November 1991 a few blocks off Hesperia's Main Street.

"This is the technique of the new millennium," said Khalili, who designed skyscrapers and schools before pioneering the use of adobe dome construction.

The technology of the Superadobe system is an offshoot of space technology that he developed and presented to NASA in the late 1980s for lunar and Martian habitation in the 21st century.

"We're building on thousands of years of technology," said the British-born Outram, a former student of Khalili's in Los Angeles before becoming his partner.

After a visit to Cal-Earth, representatives of the International Conference of Building Officials said the adobe structures have vast potential everywhere.

And United Nations representatives, who were at the Hesperia site last summer to get hands-on training on building a Superadobe dwelling, have written a report on their findings for worldwide evaluation.

The centerpiece of Cal-Earth Institute is a 700-square-foot home with 18-inch-thick walls that block out the desert heat.

Nearby, construction is under way on a model home at Cal-Earth's 7-acre site.

"We're building a 2,000-square-foot California tract home, with three bedrooms and a two-car garage," Khalili said.

Made of Superadobe materials, and built by students and other volunteers, the model home will cost about half the price of a similar $150,000 High Desert home.

Contact writer Chuck Mueller at (760) 252-5723 or via e-mail at chuck.mueller@sbsun.com

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Superadobe technology (sandbag tubes and barbed wire) was designed and developed by architect Nader Khalili and Cal-Earth Institute, and engineered by P.J. Vittore. Superadobe is a patented system (U.S. patent #5,934,027) freely put at the service of humanity and the environment. Licensing is required for commercial use.
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