To whom it may concern,
Every time we hear of earthquakes in Iran – and in other places of course - we are reminded of how fragile humans are when it comes to facing the forces that nature can unleash. Through the news broadcasts on TV we see images and hear the commentators tell of collapsed buildings that were made out of mud bricks.
An earthquake in Iran arouses special attention for several reasons. First of all, Iran is one of the places where people started building with mud bricks centuries – if not millennia – ago and some of the most magnificent structures have been erected with this material.
Secondly, one wonders how this impressive architecture could have survived the many quakes that are happening in the region regularly. Many of these buildings are centuries old and apparently could not be destroyed. There must be something in this method of building that prevented people from turning away from it.
Thirdly, one is struck by the (lack of) response of the Iranian government in case of tragedy caused by an earthquake. More than one and a half year after the devastating quake that destroyed the ancient city of Bam, the surviving citizens of that city still have to camp in tents since no help is being offered to them by the Iranian government. The tents that foreign nations have send as emergency help were sold on the bazaars of Tehran, instead of relieving the citizens of Bam from their hazardous situation.
This situation is even more grave when one knows that an American-Iranian architect solved the puzzle of why these buildings survived the heavy tremors and jolts of an earthquake. He figured out that when people 'cook' the mud brick structures, they will become hard like pottery and no earthquake can destroy them.
For more than 25 years this man, Nader Khalili, has been researching alternative sustainable housing for the worlds poor and he has come up with a cost affordable solution to world housing by developing his 'super-adobe' building style that involves no wood and only needs sandbags, barbed wire and earth. His method is based on the ancient knowledge that has been available and practiced in exactly that very same country for centuries. At Cal-Earth, the Californian architectural institute that he founded, Khalili developed a family house for roughly $850.
Unfortunately, in his own country, Khalili can not teach his revolutionary building method. As he found out in the early eighties, the authorities of the Islamic republic had no interest in solutions for housing of the poor in the Iranian countryside. Khalili had to flee Iran in 1983, like so many fellow countrymen that wanted to do something good for their country but found a deaf ear with the Islamic republic. His biggest complaint nowadays is that he cannot teach this sustainable style of building to fellow Iranians in the country.
And this is where the funds for promoting democracy come in. It should not be too difficult to set up a program on satellite TV that can remotely teach Iranian students of architecture and engineers how to build sustainable homes for their fellow countrymen for affordable prices. The methods used are indigenous. They can not be blocked under the guise of 'West-toxification', the term that is so often used by the Islamic republic to keep their own people in the dark. Whether it is about scientific and social research or about the things that are really going on in the world or in their own country, Iranians seem to get the word only on a 'need to know basis'.
Setting up such a channel or program is an excellent example of building up contacts with non-governmental organizations, support for civil-disobedience and it will also show the shortcomings of the current Iranian government policies when housing for the poor is concerned.
Many Iranians have trouble with accepting money from pro-democracy funds. They fear that receiving money equals paying lip service to the donor. At least they do not want to be perceived like that by their fellow countrymen, so if the USA wants to fund the forces of freedom and democracy in Iran, it will have to set up intelligent programs, and we are convinced that this is one.
Setting up Nader Khalili's super-adobe program with the help of satellite TV and US funding will cross bridges that up till now have been closed. This plan will not only have political impact, it will also help to preserve the environment, since this style of building involves hardly any wood, it is clean, it has a lot of advantages over other building methods.
Most importantly, it reminds the Iranian population of the fact that the answer to their questions and quests lies – like so often and in so many cases – right in front of their own door, namely the answers of old, adapted to new circumstances. Perhaps they will discover that they have more power than they realize right now. Although, as people say, you never know your real you until you experience the forces of nature.