Welcome to the world of adobe

Click on the image to see more adobe at SWSA.

Years ago, when I first penning pieces about Adobe for a magazine devoted to earthen construction (www.adobebuilder.com), a friend warned that I’d soon run out of material to write about.  After all, its just dirt said he, adding that “once you teach people how to make the blocks and stack them for a wall, there’s not much more to say.”  That was in 1973 when I’d already been drafting for adobe since 1965.  Now, after 47 years, revelations about adobe and its cousins just keep on coming, even if I only consider our local traditions here in New Mexico.  As a Basque friend pointed out, “Adobe by itself is nothing; it’s what it does for people that counts.”  Of course, many adoberos or adoberas* (adobe makers and builders) would disagree with that nothing word, for there is so much lore, tradition and even new technology wrapped up in an adobe block.  It can just be earth and water in the making, but which earth and what if you need to stabilize it against water damage?  Suddenly, the world of geology become valuable as we start considering clays and kinds of clays, sands and kinds of sands, aggregates and kinds of aggregates.  Stabilizers also open a Pandora’s  box ranging from old folk recipes as yet unproven to code-approved standards that may be mandatory in your area.  Then we can talk about sizes of adobes (there are many), chopped yucca fiber (SW U.S. and Mexico), pine needles (Honduras), or no fiber al all, just mineral soil.  We can also talk about holes or grooves made in the blocks and their varied shapes, such as for domes, vaults and hornos, which are often trapezoidal in shape.

My idea for this blog is to pass on some of the interesting stories and pieces of info about Adobe and its cousins that are often purposely omitted in our finished pieces for the magazine due to space and time constraints.  There, we must follow a kind of guideline more related to instructional writing and technical illustration.  Here, I can loosen up and add some color and spice about just how Adobe does work for people, adding a lot of value to everyday living experiences.

Stay tuned for my next post; I can’t think of a better place to start than with the horno or adobe oven.

2 thoughts on “Welcome to the world of adobe

  1. This is definitely by a long way 1 of the finest online sites I’ve browsed in a long time. I actually benefited a good deal via this post and I believe that others will as well. Always keep up the fantastic work, and more important, these kinds of fantastic articles!

  2. Your friend’s comments remind me of my friend Buzz Burwell who said in about 1971 when I told him that I was gooing to build an adobe house and go to architecture school: “I didn’t think you had to be an architect to build an adobe house.” Of course, that is the beauty of the material. It is user friendly for owner-builders. And that is what I was. But I was fresh out of the military and thought I should keep going in school. I had the pleasure of meeting you during that time and working with you on a couple of floors. We were both young men then. Now my son has a girl about the age of your daughter who put ice in your lunch sandwich that day because you always complained they were too dry. Where has time gone? But I still like the feel of mud in my hands. See you soon. Keep writing the side stories; they are interesting.

    So what effect did working with adobe to build my own house have on me? It gave me the confidence that I could do just about anything, including becoming an architect. I had first thought I would teach like my father. That is one of the reasons I took up adobe in the first place because I thought I would have to build my own house to have what I wanted. The house was 1,900 SF in Bosque Farms. I paid for one of the two 3/4 acre lots before applying for a construction loan and mortgage, both of which were available to a 27 year old. The house cost $34,000 to build ($17.90/SF for the heated area with generous garage and front and back porches.) I spent an additional $4,000 on tool purchases and rentals. Figuring that into the total, it cost $20/SF to build. I put a lot of my own labor into that house. It was hand built: aspen latillas from Paradise Park near Taos, vigas from the Jemez, hung the doors the old-fashioned way, laid the brick floors; stained, painted, roofed with a tar pot, kiva fireplaces using instructions from a 1930’s government publication. There has been a lot of grief and terrible financial losses over the last 4 years. I think people my age down to teens can draw hope from your stories of affordable housing and build their own house. By the way, forget the tar pot. I only did it because the builder I had worked for always had six leaks when it first rained when the roof was finished. Then I had to try to get the roofer out to fix it when he was busy fixing all of the other houses he had done. Well, I found out that my roof had six leaks too. And I had no subcontractor to yell at.

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