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Half-Baked Design?

December 23, 1990

Having read "Feat of Clay" (by Barbara Moran, Nov. 11), I challenge the unwarranted claims of architect Nader Khalili.

Khalili has developed a technique of firing entire mud-brick structures in place, a process of "baking" adobe that he believes "could be a means of providing durable, low-cost housing for arid regions of the world." Believing doesn't make it so.

First, the process, called Geltaftan, is unnecessary. As he describes it in his book "Ceramic Houses," the method would not affect the outsides of adobe buildings. It would not make them more "durable." They would continue to need mud plastering every few years, maintenance that I--like millions around the world--perform on my own adobe house with relatively little trouble or expense.

Second, the process doesn't work. It cannot be used on most existing structures because their roofs are supported by wooden beams or consist of thatch, either of which Geltaftan would incinerate. Even adobe buildings with domes are made of a "common adobe mixture" that Khalili himself admits is unsuitable for Geltaftan; the mixture includes "rocks . . . and organic materials," whose presence would make the adobe "break and disintegrate."

Third, in the Third World the process would be outrageously expensive. Kerosene, Khalili's fuel of choice, costs well over $2 a gallon in sub-Saharan Africa; it is used sparingly in lamps. Burning the hundreds of gallons necessary to "bake" the interior of a single room would cost many villagers their entire annual income.

JEAN-LOUIS BOURGEOIS

El Prado, N.M.

Bourgeois is a co-author of "Spectacular Vernacular: The Adobe Tradition" (Aperture, 1989) , a book on architecture in Africa and Asia .

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