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California Eco-Homes Offer Glimpse Of Lunar Future

View of a house at the CalEarth (The California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture), in Hesperia, California in April 2007. For just over two decades students have been coming to Iranian-born architect Nader Khalili's CalEarth to learn how to build a kiln-fired home from little more than soil stuffed into sacks. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Guillaume Serina
Hesperia (AFP) California, May 25, 2007
They are eco-friendly, cost next to nothing to build, and in Nader Khalili's dreams, they might one day be housing the first settlers on the Moon. On a sun-baked fringe of arid California desert that in places resembles a lunar landscape, Khalili, an Iranian-born architect who came to the United States in 1971, proudly surveys his cluster of ceramic, domed homes.

For just over two decades students have been coming to Khalili's California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (CalEarth) to learn how to build a kiln-fired home from little more than soil stuffed into sacks.

Khalili's work has been recognized by the United Nations and he is regularly invited to give presentations to NASA about the possibilities of his designs being used for lunar colonies.

But while Khalili contemplates houses of the future, he says his designs were inspired by the past.

"To me it's obvious to use earth as a building block," Khalili said. "I don't consider that I have invented anything at all. "All the Mediterranean civilizations used earth or natural materials in their architecture."

At the CalEarth Institute, students discover how to build homes which are literally dirt cheap (around 3,200 dollars for the design) and some of which are powerful enough to withstand an earthquake.

The designs incorporate only elemental materials -- earth, water and fire -- and rely on basic architectural forms, such as arches and domes. Construction is remarkably simple.

"We dig up the ground. The earth is placed into sacks. We pile them up and then fix them in place," Khalili explains. "All our designs rely on the arch, whether it's the large domed houses or the smaller dwellings. The traditional shape of a square house with vertical walls is almost designed to fall over one day. With an arch nothing collapses."

Once secured, the interior of the dome dwelling is kiln fired, sealing the interior with a thick crust of terra-cotta.

The total cost of one of the larger, more elaborate homes -- which can be built and completed by three people within the space of a week -- is around 90,000 dollars.

Known as the "superadobe," a reference to the first terra cotta homes built by Spanish settlers of California, Khalili's designs are naturally air-conditioned by strategically placed openings in the walls.

Currently there are three of the houses in Hesperia, surrounded by three smaller domes. None are inhabited although two are fully equipped. Khalili's designs have attracted the interest of NASA scientists studying the feasibility of building lunar colonies. The transportation of thousands of tonnes of heavy materials to the Moon from Earth is unfeasible, Khalili said, making buildings constructed from lunar soil or earth an attractive alternative. "There is an acknowledgement that my design is ideal," Khalili said.

In the short term, Khalili hopes to see the superadobes spread across earthquake-prone California, where local authorities recently approved their design.

The techniques taught at CalEarth have also interested the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations Development Programme, who have in the past sent fact finding missions to Hesperia.

Mini-domes based on Khalili's designs were built to house people made homeless by the devastating earthquakes in Iran in 2003 and Pakistan in 2005.

"Imagine a world where every refugee has a roof over their head -- that hardly costs anything," Khalili said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Japan Proposes Halving Emissions By 2050
Tokyo (AFP) May 24, 2007
Japan called Thursday for the world to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, proposing a successor to the Kyoto Protocol it hopes will win over top offenders the United States and China. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, unveiling the proposal ahead of the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Germany, pledged to bring all nations onboard in the fight against global warming by making the post-Kyoto framework non-binding.

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