EarthUSA News Issue #2


ARTICLES

Welcome to the Second Issue of EarthUSA News

Welcome to the second issue EarthUSA News, a new expanded electronic newsletter on earthbuilding in the United States and beyond.

EarthUSA News seeks to engage those interested and involved in earthen construction; to preserve and promote its cultural, economic, environmental, historical, and social aspects; and to be a source of both timely news and institutional knowledge.

EarthUSA News further acts as a bridge between the biannual Earth USA conference — the largest conference dedicated to earthbuilding in the United States — as well as an outlet to those involved in complimentary fields and the general public. We plan to publish this newsletter four times per year.

In this issue, you will find interesting articles on Habitat for Humanity affiliates in Colorado and New Mexico that are using adobe to construct affordable homes; the rebuild of a historic literary archive by Abari, a social and environmentally conscious design-build firm in Nepal, that made use of bamboo and earthen construction; and an interview of a long-time adobero, Antonio Martinez, as part of the regular column, “Getting the Dirt on …”. Furthermore, we look into the recent podcasts of Mud Talks, a podcast devoted to adobe and earthen construction, produced by Adobe in Action.

Timely news subjects such as the upcoming Earth USA 2019 conference in Santa Fe, NM, in October, and the Earthen Construction Initiative’s recent receiving of the prestigious San Antonio SA Sustainability Tomorrow Award are also highlighted.

We hope not only that you like EarthUSA News, but that you pass it on to colleagues and others who may have an interest in this field. We also welcome your written contributions to it. Contributions, comments, and questions can be sent to editor@adobeinaction.org.

Mark Zaineddin
editor, EarthUSA News


Acting with Adobe …

How two Habitat for Humanity affiliates are using adobe to help provide affordable housing, foster community, and bring hope to rural Colorado and New Mexico.
Written by Mark A. Zaineddin

In the midst of the often snow-capped San Christo mountains of northern New Mexico and in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado, miracles are happening. Under the auspices of the Habitat for Humanity of Taos and the San Luis Valley Habitat for Humanity affiliates — and through the remarkable efforts of soon-to-be owners, volunteers, and a few paid staff — affordable homes are being constructed, homes that utilize adobe.

These two Habitat for Humanity affiliates are committed to using this traditional medium to build affordable housing, to foster community, and to elicit hope. Both affiliates have been in existence for approximately 25 years and over this time have served their communities well. Since its inception, Habitat for Humanity of Taos has completed 31 homes and has plans to complete 4-5 houses this year … the most ever done by this small affiliate. Of the 31 homes, 23 have been made of adobe. At the same time, the San Luis Valley Habitat for Humanity affiliate has constructed homes with 20 families, 15 of which have utilized adobe. The San Luis Valley affiliate builds on average 1½ to 2 homes every three years.

Building Houses, Building Hope: Volunteers working hard on an adobe house constructed under the auspices of the San Luis Valley Habitat for Humanity.

Building Houses, Building Hope: Volunteers working hard on an adobe house constructed under the auspices of the San Luis Valley Habitat for Humanity.

Perhaps, for a number of reasons, it is not surprising that these two non-profit organizations would construct with earthen materials. For one, homes in this region of the United States have been built using dirt, sand, and water for as long as anyone can remember. One need only look at historic Taos pueblo, a UNESCO Heritage Site, and its multi-storied adobe residences which have been continuously lived in for centuries.

Making use of adobe is also culturally, environmentally, and socially relevant in this part of the country. Audrey Liu, Executive Director of the San Luis Valley Habitat for Humanity affiliate, notes, “Building with adobes has been a great educational tool to teach culture, tradition, and history. Many of our ancestors lived from and of the earth. In our building, we wish to teach living in harmony and balance, with the additional lure of the majestic mountains.”

Both affiliates utilize bricks that have been purchased, are compression tested, and meet building standards. However, Cynthia Arvidson, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Taos, adds that on their projects, “some bricks are also made on-site with sand, straw, water, and dirt. We use them in our garden walls and sell them at the ReStore for folks to use in their walls or hornos. (And) each group gets to make bricks.” No matter one’s age, who doesn’t like “playing in the mud” while helping build a house at the same time?

Building with adobe can be a major draw. Ms. Liu affirms, “(By) working with traditional adobe, we have gathered the support of many who are curious to learn, experiment, be part of a creative building process, and provide affordable housing. Our volunteers, families, and staff are totally intrigued with building homes with mud.”

Habitat for Humanity of Taos and San Luis Valley Habitat for Humanity are among the smallest Habitat affiliates in the United States. And they each face significant challenges. For example, both are located in rural areas with very sparse populations. The geographical area that the San Luis Valley affiliate covers is similar to the size of the state of Connecticut, is quite isolated, and has only a population of 40,000 from which to draw for local support. Alamosa, the commercial center of the valley, where the affiliate has been building its homes has about 12,000 residents, of which 2,500 or so are students at Adams State University. Similarly, Habitat for Humanity of Taos is one of close to 300 non-profits in the town of 5,000 residents, competing for offerings of time and money. The county of Taos in which the affiliate is located has a population of only 32,000, and 90 percent of its residents cannot afford to purchase a home there.

Given these challenges, both Habitat affiliates rely heavily upon visiting work groups for support. For example, in 2018, Habitat for Humanity of Taos hosted 26 work groups coming from all over the United States, including Illinois, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.

Indeed, each year, volunteers from churches, colleges and universities, companies, and other organizations come to provide valuable support to these non-profit organizations. In addition to giving their time, these groups also contribute funds which are used to purchase building materials.

In return, volunteers are exposed to, and learn about, the diverse local cultures and historically-rich traditions including their use of adobe; they get a chance to work side-by-side with soon-to-be new home owners and others; and they have fun at the same time. For these groups, Ms. Arvidson suggests that while a work group’s mission trip may still be in the United States, “it feels like a global experience.”

Volunteers working with adobe on a Habitat for Humanity of Taos’ Women Build Taos 2018, part of Habitat National Women Build Week.

Volunteers working with adobe on a Habitat for Humanity of Taos’ Women Build Taos 2018, part of Habitat National Women Build Week.

At the same time, there are challenges to building with adobe. For one, Ms. Liu notes that it is important to have a construction supervisor who is very comfortable working with earthen materials. It also requires that there be many volunteers to help. For the San Luis Valley affiliate, this means that the summer is by far the busiest season; for it is then that most work groups come for a week long experience. Ms. Arvidson adds that building with adobe can be a bit more time consuming than constructing stick and frame homes. That said, because of volunteer labor, adobe construction is cost competitive. And the visiting work groups love to experience making adobe bricks.

But the benefits far outweigh the challenges. Benefits that include promoting cultural traditions, energy efficiency, stewardship of our earth’s resources, community enhancement, and home ownership.

Not only do these homes — which the new owners partner with volunteers and staff by adding 500 hours of sweat equity and purchase with a no interest mortgage — continue a long cultural tradition in the region of building with adobe. In doing so, they introduce time-tested building with earth to both local and non-local volunteers. But also, the homes are energy efficient, utilizing in many cases trombe walls, solar hot water systems, and solar gain in their design. Additionally, these Habitat homes help also foster community, with volunteers working together to complete a common project. And importantly they help alleviate an affordable housing crisis, one home at a time.

Finally, for the new owners, their earth-built homes elicit a deep sense of hope and pride. Ms. Liu states, “Our Habitat home owners are thrilled to be living in a house built like their grandmother’s and paying lower utility bills.” To which Ms. Arvidson adds, “Most partner owners are single Hispanic mothers and they love the adobe!”

For more information on these two Habitat for Humanity affiliates, their current work and on-going activities, as well as volunteer opportunities, please check out their respective websites on the Internet:


Building with Bamboo and the Earth in Nepal

Abari, a local socially and environmentally committed design-build firm, rebuilds an important historic literary archive.
Written by Pranathi, pictures by Ashesh Rajbansh

Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya (MPP) is located in the historic precinct of Patan, adjoining the Patan Dhoka — the gateway to the city of crafts. It has been a beacon for archival endeavors in Nepali literature.

It is a receptacle of literary and cultural treasures. It hosts the largest archives of Nepali literature in the country and has an active documentation of historic books and documents.

The trust of MPP approached Abari, a design-build firm, in their quest to commission home-grown designers to re-build this monument of sorts. The core value of the rebuilding process was to uphold their values of preserving the vernacular, using architecture as a language.

The original Rana style building that was adversely affected following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2015 was built with the characteristic Nepali bricks and decorated with plaster of Paris trimmings. Its library look was emphasized with the minimalist grid windows that looked out into the manicured gardens, creating an atmosphere fit for reading.

“When we set out to rebuild the historic building we had to pay homage to its previous incarnation, so we decided to build on the same foundation and reuse some of the historic bricks, with the notable Bikram Sambat (Nepali) dates still evidently adorning the relic. The old surely set the foundation for the new in this case” shares Nripal Adhikary, founder, director and chief designer of Abari, the architectural practice that is responsible for designing and building this historic space. Abari has a reputation of building with natural, locally sourced materials rendering them in a modern perspective.

The simple form of the structure as seen from the outside is contrasted by the complex web-like structural trusses seen in the interiors. The earth and bamboo library has a double height space which regulates natural lighting and air quality through the fenestrations.  The walls bear a natural palette of pastel yellows and reds of the local clay varieties used in plasters. The ceiling is finished with bamboo mats not only for aesthetic but also for its insulation properties.

The simple form of the structure as seen from the outside is contrasted by the complex web-like structural trusses seen in the interiors. The earth and bamboo library has a double height space which regulates natural lighting and air quality through the fenestrations.

The walls bear a natural palette of pastel yellows and reds of the local clay varieties used in plasters. The ceiling is finished with bamboo mats not only for aesthetic but also for its insulation properties.

“The theme of the building was to filter light into these archives and set a stage for visitors to admire the sheer numbers of books and artifacts they’ve conserved over the past decades. It was surely to be earthquake friendly and took a revolutionary new turn when we decided to have a separate structure to support the roof and have self-supporting light weight walls,” adds Kamal Maharjan, project architect and lead supervisor of the construction of this conservatoire. The design is inherently made of bamboo, the preferred choice of in-house designers and engineers at Abari, based on their decade long research on this wonder grass.

When quizzed why they work with bamboo and earth, Nripal notes, “Asia has a great bounty of bamboo varieties, yet lack of knowledge and research, and the lobbies of cement and steel industries has pushed natural materials to the fringes. The biggest challenge in setting up an industry involving natural materials is to create and sustain a supply chain. We have been able to identify a few districts in Nepal ideal for growing and producing bamboo suitable for construction and over the past five years have been working with farmers’ cooperatives to build a network of bamboo producers, eventually buying back from them

The benefits of fostering and working with bamboo is multifold. Bamboo is known to have the strength of steel without the heftiness. It also has a property no other natural material or man-made technology could have; of being able to sway and shift during an earthquake or turbulent winds and come back to its original (upright) position. This made it ideal to have the entirety of this structure be designed with such a versatile, carbon neutral material but other contextual necessities such as humidity levels for books and thermal insulation during extremities of seasons for human comfort earmarked a shift in our design approach.

Earth is known to best regulate humidity and temperature and have porosity that allows for ‘breathability’ in a space. We wanted to promote and showcase an ancient building system that has evolved in mountain communities all over the world and still exists in upper Mustang. We wanted to celebrate and revive rammed earth!

The design of the truss is unique because the roof does not rest on the rammed earth walls. The walls and roof being independent of each other and having their own structural load paths ensures stability and safety during an earthquake.  The behavior of the wattle and daub light weight walls is very different to the rammed earth and the bamboo truss during seismic movements. This design takes into account the varying behavior and hence the separation.

The design of the truss is unique because the roof does not rest on the rammed earth walls. The walls and roof being independent of each other and having their own structural load paths ensures stability and safety during an earthquake.

The behavior of the wattle and daub light weight walls is very different to the rammed earth and the bamboo truss during seismic movements. This design takes into account the varying behavior and hence the separation.

It is essentially load bearing construction and has dual benefit of not needing heavy vertical reinforcements and has inherent solar passive thermal properties. It’s known to store solar radiation and slowly release it overnight garnering interiors cool in summers and warm in winters.”

The company has been a pioneer and specialist in contemporizing the ancient technique of rammed earth walls. The core of the complex is comprised of rammed earth walls and the offices are designed around it, for a more constant thermal comfort; whilst the archive has a more light-weight breathable wattle and daub wall construction that is inspired from the Terai region’s vernacular language. The archive has a dramatic double story which is best appreciated when one is looking down at it from the split-level balcony.

The entrance to the library is punctuated with the unmistakable feature of Abari’s spatial designs, a bamboo staircase! It has beautiful detailing and floats effortlessly to the split-level upper story.

The material palette is truly a celebration of earthen colors with pastel shades of earth paint on the wattle and daub walls, from deep reds to subtle yellows. And the golden hues of the bamboo are offset with the black angular metal junctions. This joining technique was developed over years of research and was found ideal in Nepal’s context where one could construct a large space using pre-fabrication systems. It played a pivotal role in the speedy yet steadfast resurrection of the library to ensure the books and articles are restored safely at the earliest.

The exterior walls are finished with a casein coating to protect the earthen walls from the natural elements. Both the rammed earth wall and the wattle and daub walls benefit from this sacrificial layer which needs to be repainted every 3 to 5 years.

The exterior walls are finished with a casein coating to protect the earthen walls from the natural elements. Both the rammed earth wall and the wattle and daub walls benefit from this sacrificial layer which needs to be repainted every 3 to 5 years.

The library has been functional for the past two years and has been appreciated by the staff and visitors for its customized spaces with quiet corners and the filtered sunlight. The chamber with the collection of books is adorned with small windows at strategic locations to ensure there’s plenty of light and ventilation, whilst the façade has dramatic glass windows which invite the passerby to enter and explore the space. The minimalist design approach deftly highlights the bamboo which is meant to be the subject of discussion and exploration.

One of the highlights during the construction process as recalled by the designers and foundation members alike, was when the late chairman, Kamal Mani Dixit, addressed this new take on the building as a chapel of light. He appreciated the marriage of the modern take on fenestrations and the classical look of a cathedral in the double height space of the library.

It stands singularly proud of its new-age design yet blends effortlessly into the soft hued brick and tiled roof neighborhood of the colloquial Newari architecture. It represents a promising future for conserving, preserving as well as contemporizing all that is traditional, cultural, and vernacular.

This article previously appeared in Spaces Nepal. It is republished with permission of the author. More information on Abari and its work can be found at www.abari.earth.


Mud Talks - A Podcast Dedicated to All Things Earthbuilding

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Mud Talks – created by Adobe in Action (AinA), a non-profit organization based in Santa Fe, NM – is a worthwhile and highly informative podcast devoted to adobe and earthen construction

As of this issue, eight episodes have been produced by Kurt Gardella, co-executive director of AinA, and feature Quentin Wilson, director emeritus of Northern New Mexico College's Adobe Construction Program and currently President of AinA. 

Current episodes include topics such as “Adobe Wall Construction Part I - From Planning to Laying Bricks & Mortar” and “Adobe Wall Construction Part II - Lintels & Bond Beams”. The most recent episode, the eighth produced, takes the listener through the basic design and materials of typical roofs used on adobe structures in New Mexico.

Kurt and Quentin will be continuing the series through the fall with a focus on the most important owner builder adobe topics - earthen plasters and floors are next on the list. Starting in early 2020 the series will be shifting to a series of guest interviews with other experts from the field.

The Mud Talks podcast can be listened to at www.adobeinaction.org/mud-talks/, iTunes, and other favorite sites where one downloads podcasts. If you're enjoying Mud Talks, consider supporting future episodes by contributing to Adobe in Action's podcast production fund.


TIMELY NEWS

Earthen Construction Initiative receives a SA Tomorrow Sustainability Award!

On February 20th, 2019, Earthen Construction Initiative (ECI) received the 2018 SA Tomorrow Sustainability Award in the Sustainable Program category by the City of San Antonio, TX’s Office of Sustainability.

SA Tomorrow Sustainability Award with (left to right) Ron Evans (ECI board member); Celia Mendoza (ECI board member); Stephen Colley (ECI President); and Lauran Drown (ECI Vice President).

SA Tomorrow Sustainability Award with (left to right) Ron Evans (ECI board member); Celia Mendoza (ECI board member); Stephen Colley (ECI President); and Lauran Drown (ECI Vice President).

In granting the award, the Office of Sustainability noted the non-profit’s efforts in recommending and submitting a number of modifications to the building code used by San Antonio and meant to encourage earthen construction in the city. The City Council approved the ECI’s recommendations in June of last year with the modified building code going into effect in October.  

The City of San Antonio’s Office of Sustainability sponsors the SA Tomorrow Sustainability Awards annually. According to a press release announcing a call for nominations, “The award honors businesses and organizations that showcase breakthroughs and innovations using the three pillars of sustainability - social, economic, and environmental. … The awards also spotlight the City’s SA Tomorrow initiative, which plans for the San Antonio area to grow by another one million residents by 2040. Each category covers projects that support the goals of the SA Tomorrow Plan in the areas of energy; green buildings and infrastructure; land use and transportation; natural resources; and public health.”

ECI is a nonprofit organization founded in 2016 whose mission is to advance and promote earthen construction through research, education, and outreach. Based in San Antonio, Texas, ECI boasts nearly 50 members from across Texas and neighboring states.

More information on Earthen Construction Initiative and its current endeavors can be found on its website at: www.earthenci.org. To learn more about the city of San Antonio’s Office of Sustainability, SA Tomorrow Awards and other 2018 winners, check out: www.sanantonio.gov/sustainability/sustainability-awards


Earth USA 2019: October 25th - 27th in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Mark Your Calendars! Registration is Now Open!

Earth USA 2019, the 10th International Conference on Architecture & Construction with Earthen Materials, will be held from Friday, October 25 to Sunday, October 27, 2019 at the Scottish Rite Center's Alhambra Theater in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

This conference is slated to draw a wider field of interest than every before and will include diverse podium presentations and poster sessions which feature adobe, rammed earth, compressed earth block (CEB), and monolithic adobe (cob). It will be of interest to academicians, architects, practitioners, those involved in various aspects of public policy, as well as the general public.

We are very excited and pleased to announce that Ron Rael, Professor of Architecture and Eva Li Memorial Chair in Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, will be this year’s keynote speaker.

Also of interest, the inaugural Fred Webster Earthbuilding Engineering Prize will be awarded to a student for her or his work in innovative design or engineering solutions in new construction or a preservation project

Earth USA 2019 is slated to include three days of podium presentations and poster sessions as well as pre- and post-conference workshops, tours, and a Friday evening meet and greet presentation.

Online registration is now open!

For more information on the conference, please check out the Earth USA 2019 website.

We look forward to seeing you in Santa Fe in October!


REGULAR COLUMN: GETTING THE DIRT ON ...

Adobero Antonio Martinez outside the historic San Miguel Mission Church in Santa Fe, NM.

Adobero Antonio Martinez outside the historic San Miguel Mission Church in Santa Fe, NM.

Getting the Dirt on Antonio Martinez


This interview was conducted by Gilbert Gutierrez and features Antonio Martinez, a longtime adobero in New Mexico. The interview has been edited for brevity. The complete unedited interview has been kept as part of an oral history that Adobe in Action and EarthUSA News are initiating.

1. Tell us about yourself. How did you become involved in adobe construction?

I grew up as a lumberjack. My father and my uncles operated a sawmill. They did everything … the logging, the milling, the transporting, and the selling. When I was in the ninth grade, both my uncle and grandmother died. These basically ended the business. My dad went into carpentry and, throughout high school, whenever he had a project, when I could, I would tag along.

And after I graduated from high school, I got hired on as a construction laborer but did not work with adobe until 1985. That year, the mayordomo of the church in Rociada Arriba noticed a crack that appeared near a window. After looking at it, a state building inspector ended up condeming the church. For two years, the community tried to figure out what to do. (Through the efforts of the parish priest and archbishop), the community got introduced to what is now known as Cornerstones. They came, looked at the building, and organized us. At one point, this organization held a big workshop and invited a lot of people who were working with adobe architecture. And everybody who saw the wall felt that it could be saved. (Many trials and tribulations took place. Some wanted to walk away from the church, others wanted to repair it. Years went by.).

Yet, it was through working on this church and others that many people, including myself, were exposed to adobe. Indeed, we were two months shy of 10 years from the time the church was closed to its rededication. At the same time, in the early 1990s, I was asked to be a part of the archbishop’s commission (for the preservation of historic churches). Shortly, thereafter, Cornerstones offered me a position and, in it, I got to see what was happening throughout the state … in Mora, Taos, Socorro, and elsewhere. That is how, I had basically learned how to work with adobe.

2. So you learned adobe through trial and error and working through Cornerstones?

Well yeah. Ed Crocker of Cornerstones was the advisor to Rociada and he taught me a lot. I remember the first day that we were going to start laying adobe. I drove from Santa Fe to Rociada. And as I pulled up to the church, the community members that were going to work on the church were all sitting outside. I said “Well, what are we waiting for?” They said, “we’re waiting for the guy from Santa Fe.” To which I replied, “what’s the guy from Santa Fe going to teach us?” Someone chimed in, “He’s going to teach us how to make mud.” I laughed and started shoveling dirt into the mixer. (Needless to say, I had no idea what I was doing). When Ed walked up. he showed us the correct way to mix the sand, dirt, and water. I had a hard time accepting that. … But (eventually) I listened to him and, little by little, I learned. We rebuilt this church … fixed the portion of the wall that had fallen and did a mud-plastering. (The experience) gave me an opportunity to work for the archdiocese and evaluate churches in it. It wasn’t only Rociada that was having problems, it was all over. Any church that had been cement-plastered was having a problem.

3. Was this a condition that you found common in the historic churches in New Mexico?

Yes, the footprint of all structures will trap moisture. At one point, I thought a cement stem wall or foundation would protect it, but it doesn’t. For example, the church in Cerro (which we worked on) had been built in the 1930s. In the 1930s, they probably simply used sand from an arroyo — sand that would have been dirty enough to allow moisture to creep up. And then when the church was cemented after World War II, it became sealed up and no longer could breathe. Needless to say, moisture started to accumulate.

4. What were some of the other churches you were either a consultant on or helped the communities restore their churches?

I have worked on a lot of churches; churches in the Mora area, in Taos, over by Abiquiu Dam, and down south by Socorro. There have been a lot of them. I never kept a list of them. Every once in a while, I will get a phone call from a community who will say back in so and so you did an evaluation and I will have to look through my notes or the report that I wrote (just to remember). … Sometimes I would see three or four churches in a day; sometimes ten in a week.

5.  How important was getting the community involved?

When I went to look at a church which had very visible problems — for example, the wall had collapsed — the community would often be completely in shock. They had no idea what needed to be done first. All they would say was, “What are we going to do without a church?”. And some people in the community would cry. (For me), it was like Rociada all over again when our church had been condemned. Little by little the community would be shown what had to be done. And even if they had never worked with adobe, once they got over the fear that the church would melt away, the community would embrace the project and they would do the work. It does bring the community together. In our case in Rociada, you had community members who had their own little wars. But those private little wars would be set aside and they would work together on the church.

6.  How did you come to work on the historic San Miguel Mission Church in Santa Fe?

I started working on San Miguel in Santa Fe after working on the San Miguel mission in California. Pat Taylor used to work with Cornerstones in the southern part of the state. He was invited to work on San Miguel mission in California because I guess the contractor couldn’t find anybody who could make an adobe or an adobe mix from scratch. … Pat Taylor asked me if I would go with him and I ended up spending six months with the Franciscans there at Mission San Miguel. … After we came back, the following year, San Miguel Church in Santa Fe was getting started. Pat Taylor was hired on as an employee of Cornerstones. He brought me on to the project. And basically I would stay on to run the job and Pat would run back and forth to do his other jobs.

7.  Tell us about the history of the San Miguel Mission Church in Santa Fe.

They claim the San Miguel Church dates back to 1610 and supposedly it is the oldest church in the United States. … Santa Fe San Miguel underwent a major restoration in the 1970s. At that time, they changed out some of the roof structures and fixed some of the parapets. When we got started, we had to work on a lot of the parapets and also remove a lot of the cement plaster and build it up. We had a lot of stitching to do because the cement plaster caused many of the adobes to deteriorate. A lot of stitching was done to ensure the walls would remain standing. And then we worked a lot on the parapets. We rebuilt some of them and then replastered the church.

8.  What was the most recent project you’ve worked on?

I’m still doing a lot of consulting work. I don’t do any of the physical work anymore. My last job was in Polvadera, a mission of Socorro. And that was this past Fall. The problem was that the interior had plastered right over the mud. The mud was too smooth a surface and the gypsum plaster started to fall off. They had decided they wanted to redo it. I told them that the plaster was trapping moisture. We ended up taking off all the interior plaster … so the wall would have an opportunity to breathe. Then they decided to do a lime plaster. Your only choices when you remove the cement is to do either a lime plaster or a mud plaster. Because it is these two that will breathe.

9.  Where do you see earthbuilding going in the future?

I see a big boom in restoration. A lot of old buildings — whether private homes or a public buildings like old school houses and churches — were cemented and are beginning to become troubled. Here, there is a need for restoration. People, when they start having problems with a building, think they have to raze it and start from scratch. (But that is not true). When you rebuild a wall like that has a traditional mud and stone foundation, you have to go with the same mud and stone foundation. When you mix a concrete foundation with a mud and stone foundation, everything is going to act differently because one is a rigid material and one is a soft material. A slight tremor — even the vibration of vehicles passing the building — may affect it (when concrete and mud and stone are combined).

10.  Are most opportunities in the area of restoring older buildings made with traditional materials.

Yes. I’ve worked on a lot of private buildings that were sold because the original owners didn’t know how to fix them. They thought that maybe they would have to raze them and were looking at a very high cost. (In many cases), the owners became overwhelmed and didn’t want to deal with the buildings, so they sold them. New owners would then come in with a bit more money and fix them. The only way to fix an older adobe building is to use traditional adobe, to stitch it in, and to make sure that the building is able to breathe.

11. Why is it important to become more educated about earth building?

Well, the more educated you become, the less you are afraid of building. You don’t hit a wall and feel hopeless. You can say, “I can fix this!” Once you are educated, you are more confident and enthusiastic about taking on a project. Even though it might take you ten years to fix it! The key is the willingness to take it on. And then if (a family or community) are undertaking the work, it’s not as expensive as a contractor who wants to come in, quickly construct or repair, and then move on to the next project.

12. Any final words you want to share?

Every time I go into a community, the experience I had in Rociada is revived. The hopelessness is overcome. The hope is there. The building can be saved if they are willing to do the work.

Each issue we feature an individual in the earthbuilding field. If there is someone you think would be wonderful for us to interview, or about whom you would like to know more, please let us know by emailing the editor of EarthUSA News at editor@adobeinaction.org.


UPCOMING ACTIVITIES AND EVENTS


Please find below upcoming activities and events. While seeking to promote earth building activities and events, EarthUSA News cannot vet or verify all activities and events, or the entities that are organizing them. As always, please contact the entity with any questions or concerns that you may have.

Adobe in Action 2019 Fall Online Earthbuilding Courses

Join Adobe in Action for its 8th year of offering its online Certificate in Adobe Construction. Sign up for the full fall 2019 semester of classes and receive a special discounted tuition price. Fall semester courses are as follows:

  • Adobe Wall Construction
    Dates: July 8 to August 18, 2019

  • Roofs for Adobe Structures
    Dates: August 19 to September 29, 2019

  • Interior and Exterior Plastering
    Dates: September 30 to Nov. 10, 2019

  • Floors for Adobe Structures
    Dates: November 11 to Dec. 22, 2019

More information on the courses, registration, and the certificate program can be found at www.adobeinaction.org/certificate-classes/.

Adobe in Action is a New Mexico-based 501c3 non-profit organization which supports owner builders with the planning and construction of adobe homes; promotes adobe home building and ownership through education and student-based field support; produces Mud Talks, a podcast dedicated to earthen construction; and organizes Earth USA, the largest biannual conference on earthbuilding in the United States.

Earthen Construction Initiative Meetings and Presentations

Board Meetings and Member Present! Speakers Series
First Tuesday of each month:
Board Meetings - 6:00 pm; Members Present! Speakers Series - 7:15 pm.
Southwest School of Art, San Antonio, TX

Earthen Construction Initiative (ECI) board meetings are held each first Tuesday of the month at 6pm at the Southwest School of Art. Following board meetings at 7:15pm, ECI hosts Members Present! a popular short-format presentation series where a member or invited speaker shares knowledge on a topic related to the use of earthen materials in building. Board meetings and Members Present! are both open-to-the-public and free to attend. For more information on these and other ECI happenings, please visit their website at www.earthenci.org

ECI is a nonprofit organization founded in 2016 whose mission is to advance and promote earthen construction through research, education and outreach. Based in San Antonio, Texas, ECI boasts nearly 50 members from across Texas and neighboring states.

A Call for Submissions to EarthUSA News

EarthUSA News very much welcomes your contributions. EarthUSA News promotes earth building architecture and construction as well as its its cultural, economic, environmental, historical, and social aspects. The target audience of EarthUSA News is not only those directly and indirectly involved in the field but also the general public.

Submissions can include articles, timely news, book reviews, and upcoming events or activities. They should be clearly and concisely written. Photos are also welcome. We reserve the right to edit, postpone, or reject submissions based on relevancy or other matters. We regret that at this point we cannot pay for such submissions. For more information on contributing, please do not hesitate to contact the editor at editor@adobeinaction.org.

EarthUSA News Issue #1


ARTICLES

Welcome and an Introduction to EarthUSA News

Welcome to EarthUSA News, a new expanded electronic newsletter on earthbuilding in the United States and beyond. EarthUSA News seeks to engage those interested and involved in earthen construction; to preserve and promote its cultural, economic, environmental, historical, and social aspects; and to be a source of both timely news and institutional knowledge. It further acts as a bridge between the biannual Earth USA conference — the largest conference dedicated to earthbuilding in the United States — as well as an outlet to those involved in complimentary fields and the general public.

In this issue and issues in the future, you will find interesting articles and interviews, timely news, book reviews and podcast links, and upcoming events. We plan to publish this newsletter four times per year.

We hope not only that you like EarthUSA News, but that you pass it on to colleagues and others who may have an interest in this field. We also welcome your written contributions to it. Contributions, comments, and questions can be sent to editor@adobeinaction.org.


Earthbuilding in the Big Apple … Who Would Have Thought!

A call from the Polo Corporation leads to laying earthen floors in New York City
by Richard Connerty - R. P. Connerty and Son Construction Co.

Several years ago I received an intriguing phone call; “Mister Connerty, my name is Doug Hockmeier and I’m with Polo Corporation here in New York. We were wondering if you might be able to come to our showroom here in the city and install a mud floor for us.”

During the course of the call, Hockmeier went on to explain that his boss, Ralph Lauren, was developing a line of homewares such as sheets and towels with a Southwestern motif. And, as a stickler for providing an accurate environment for these products, Hockmeier said, “Ralph expects the real deal for the display… mud plasters, mud floors, Southwestern furniture, navajo blankets, and so on. Buyers come from all over the world to this annual show. And it’s on the sixth floor of the Polo showroom … on the sixth floor! Can you do it?”

I gave this proposal some serious thought and considered many factors. Firstly, I felt certainly knowledgeable and competent in laying mud floors. My company, R. P. Connerty and Son Construction Company, had laid several earthen floors and I had full confidence in our ability. We had further volunteered on a Cornerstones project, restoring an number of deteriorated capillas and moradas in Northern New Mexico; and, in the process, we had learned a great deal under the leadership of two experts, Sam Baca and Ed Crocker. And finally, I knew that with my son and brother in-law, I had the skilled labor to undertake this endeavor.

Now, before formally accepting, I needed to figure out costs and procurement possibilities for undertaking such a job in Manhattan. Hockmeier had presented me with the square footage requirements of the floor plan, and, based on calculations, I realized that I need about six cubic yards of a clay and sand mix. Now, I’m originally from Boston but I knew New York fairly well as I had lived there for several years before moving to Santa Fe in 1978. In fact, when living in New York, I drove a cab and had a good idea of happenings of this city and how one gets things done.

So what did I do? First, I put in a call to my old friend Sweeney with whom I had co-owned a small bar on the lower East side back in the day. I explained my venture and that I need a truckload of clay and sand mix delivered to the showroom of Polo Corporation at Broadway and 38th. Sweeney replied, “Let me get back to you. My cousin Timmy works as a groundskeeper at Shea Stadium and I think he’ll be able to hook you up!” And, indeed, he did. Sweeney followed up with a call, saying “You need to talk to the DiFrancini brothers. They have a sand and gravel business in Flushing and they provide the clay mix for the infield at Shea. They specialize in clay tennis courts and baseball infields.”

With this information, I phoned to Ray DiFrancini who assured me that he could deliver the six cubic yards of material at a reasonable price. Following this, I called Hockmeier back and offered him a cost figure for the work to which he quickly agreed. In fact, he agreed so quickly that it made me wonder if I had underbid the job.

Nonetheless, two weeks later my brother-in-law, Kevin, my son, Eamon, and I were off-loading a dump truck at the service entrance of the Polo Corporation, shoveling the clay-mix into wheeled metal bins, taking it up the service elevator, and onto the showroom floor. It is there where we mixed the dry ingredients and water in wheelbarrows.

The newly installed mud floor looked nice and the design staff of Polo Corporation were very happy with the result. The only hitch was that, as with all mud floors, they sometimes take a couple of weeks to completely dry out and time was limited. As it happened, while the drying was happening, other contractors walked back and forth over our mud floor. This created an aged patina that looked terrific.

As for me, the best part of the job was that Eamon and I got to spend some memorable time together along with my dear mother-in-law, who lives on the Lower East Side, and who put my son and I up for the seven days that it took to do the job.

And once again, Hockmeier and others at the Polo Corporation liked it. How do I know? They paid us in cash!

So there it is … a phone call from the Polo Corporation leads to a mud floor in the Big Apple! Don’t let anyone ever tell you that earthen construction is limited to the Southwest!


Mark Your Calendars! Earth USA 2019 to be Held in Santa Fe, NM, in October 2019

Earth USA 2019, the 10th International Conference on Architecture and Construction with Earthen Materials, will take place October 25th - 27th, 2019, in Santa Fe, NM. This conference, the largest of its kind in the United States, focuses on adobe, cob (monolithic adobe), compressed earth block, rammed earth, and any other material or method that uses clay as a binder. For anyone involved or interested in the field, this is a must conference to attend. Indeed, Earth USA 2019 is geared towards academics and practitioners as well as policy makers and the general public and draws attendees from all over the world.

The conference will feature three days of podium presentations and poster sessions; a Friday evening speaker meet and great; tours of local earthbuilding sites in and around Santa Fe; and pre- and post-conference earthbuilding workshops offered by Adobe in Action. Furthermore, attendees can avail themselves of the opportunity to network with other individuals involved directly or indirectly, in this field.

One of the unique feature of Earth USA 2019 is that it is very broad in scope with presentations covering:

  • the preservation, stabilization, and re-purposing of historic buildings and cities;

  • new architecture, construction projects, and construction methods;

  • education and information transfer including codes, norms, and regulations;

  • physical and thermal properties of materials and structures; and

  • social, cultural, and environmental elements fostered by earthbuilding practices and traditions

Furthermore, there will be commercial presentations including architects, designers, contractors, and product manufacturers. And, for this first time, the Fred Webster Earthbuilding Engineering Prize will be offered. This prize will be presented to an engineering or architecture student working on innovative design and engineering solutions for new construction or preservation projects in the earthbuilding field.

More information on Earth USA 2019 and the Fred Webster Earthbuilding Engineering Prize as well as important call for paper and registration deadlines and sponsorship opportunities can be found on the Earth USA 2019 website at: www.earthusa.org


Mud Talks

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A New Podcast Dedicated to All Things Earthbuilding!

Mud Talks - a new podcast devoted to adobe and earthen construction - has been created by Adobe in Action (AinA), a non-profit organization based in Santa Fe, NM. As of this issue, five episodes have been produced by Kurt Gardella, co-executive director of AinA and feature Quentin Wilson, director emeritus of Northern New Mexico College's Adobe Construction Program and currently President of AinA.

Current episodes include topics such as “why adobe?”; “passive solar design”; “raw materials in adobe brick making and the adobe bring making process”; and “foundations for adobe structures.”

Furthermore, the most recent episode, the fifth produced, is dedicated to Richard Levine, the founder and longtime owner of New Mexico Earth Adobes. Levine passed away at the end of September 2018 and this episode includes a 2012 interview of him, recorded at the Swan House in Presidio, TX, (home of The Adobe Alliance).

The Mud Talks podcast can be downloaded at www.adobeinaction.org/mud-talks/, iTunes, and other favorite sites where one downloads podcasts.


TIMELY NEWS

San Antonio Passes New Earth Construction Permit Codes

The Right Time for Code Change: How Earthen Construction Initiative helped San Antonio become the first U.S. municipality to adopt IBC-based amendments on Earthen Construction
by Lauran Drown, AIA

In June 2018, San Antonio City Council voted unanimously to approve the adoption of the 2018 International Code Council (ICC) Building-related, Fire and Property Maintenance codes and corresponding local amendments. In San Antonio, adopting the latest ICC codes occurs every three years following the three-year update cycle of the ICC. What was remarkable in 2018 was that included among the local amendments was language related to the use of earthen materials in building construction. This made San Antonio the first municipality in the United States to adopt International Building Code (IBC) -based amendments on earthen construction (EC).

The adopted amendments, which comprised changes and additions to IBC Section 2109: Empirical Design of Adobe Masonry and to corresponding definitions in IBC Chapter 2: Definitions, were put forth by Earthen Construction Initiative, a San Antonio based 501c3 organization devoted to advancing and promoting earthen construction. ECI was motivated to take this on when in February 2018 at a member’s meeting, San Antonio City Councilman and architect, Roberto Treviño asked if it would be helpful to have more representation for EC in the local building code and pledged his support of an ECI-sponsored proposal during the then ongoing ICC adoption process.

Between February and May, the five-member ECI technical committee chaired by Michael Donoghue, PE of Austin, TX, met regularly to research current codes on EC, develop a proposal strategy, and craft language suitable to regional conditions as well as to a potentially wider U.S. audience.

Ground work for ECI’s proposal was laid by The Earth Builder’s Guild (TEG) in the previous ICC cycle. Prior to its 2018 publication, IBC Section 2109: Empirical Design of Masonry dealt primarily with fired masonry and contained only a few provisions about earthen construction. Due in great part to the preference for frame buildings with masonry veneer, the chapter had seemingly become defunct causing it to be considered for deletion. Present at the ICC hearing where this matter was discussed, TEG members realized the possible tragedy of losing a nod to EC as an opportunity to successfully propose a rewrite of Section 2109 based on successful language from the New Mexico Earthen Building Code.

Having this language already in the IBC, provided a point-of-origin for ECI’s proposal and for discussions with officials at the City of San Antonio’s Development Services Department. Prescriptions that would guide officials on how to interpret code to adequately inspect earthen structures was a tangible concern as several rammed earth or compressed earth block (CEB) structures had in recent years been built within city limits. Development Services officials aided ECI with their feedback and with help navigating the formal amendments process.

Considering adobe, CEB, and rammed earth as the primary technologies that would most often be used locally, ECI’s proposal centered on developing language applicable to all three. Chapter 2109 in the San Antonio Building Code is now aptly titled, Empirical Design of Earthen Construction. The new code went into effect on October 1st. A summary of the changes is available on the City of San Antonio’s website at https://docsonline.sanantonio.gov/FileUploads/DSD/CI2018-001.pdf.

Lauran Drown, AIA is a founding member and the current vice president of Earthen Construction Initiative. She is a Texas-registered architect employed with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. where she specializes in building enclosure consulting for contemporary and historic buildings.


REGULAR COLUMN: GETTING THE DIRT ON ...

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Getting the Dirt on Kirk Higbee

1. How did you get involved in earthbuilding?

In kindergarten, I toured the old adobe Fort El Pueblo in my hometown, Pueblo, Colorado. The lifelong interest, passion, and quest for knowledge in earthen buildings and methods had begun. In the years that followed, I visited Bent’s Fort, another massive adobe structure which was rebuilt near La Junta, Colorado. Spending many years walking around the empty space where it once existed, I saw first hand and from practitioners how the massive fort was rebuilt.

Additionally, I volunteered at Fort Garland, another adobe fort on the western side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado. In my free time, I regularly searched out adobe buildings as well as adoberos in my hometown and learned a number of things that continued to pique my interest in, and knowledge of, adobe building.

2. What you currently working on?

I have been working on a number of projects. Current endeavors include working on my own adobe house in Phoenix, Arizona. This has required me to search for the city’s adobe building codes as I was met with dead ends at the Building Department. 

Secondly, I have been working with a number of other individuals on projects. For example, this past summer, I assisted in the construction of an adobe hogan on the Navajo Nation for an extended Navajo family. Furthermore, I have been volunteering with Brick by Brick, a compressed earth block project in Scottsdale, Arizona. And I have been helping a number of neighbors who need basic instruction on how to simply and affordably maintain their adobe homes.

Thirdly, I am experimenting with a common weed that produces a latex sap for use as a stabilizer. Trials of the plant have so far proven effective. 

And lastly I continue to add to an annotated bibliography of adobe and earth building resources that I began several years ago. At this point, the bibliography includes nearly 12,000 sources. To make it more accessible to practitioners and scholars, I have begun to rank the top 50 sources — journals, books and movies — in various earthbuilding sub-topics such as mud plasters, rammed earth, cob, and earthquake stabilization for adobe. 

3. Where do find your passion in this field?  For example, are you particularly interested in the community building, cultural, economic, engineering, environmental, regulatory, or sociological aspects of earthbuilding?

My passion for the field is in building infill housing in large cities of the Southwest where adobe architecture is or has existed. Infill is building on vacant lots in already established or transitioning neighborhoods. 

Another passion or goal would be the construction of sub-divisions or housing developments across the Southwest. My passion for earthen architecture is rooted in the local economy using locally available resources: earth, laborers, and building materials.

4. Within earthbuilding, where do you see important contributions coming from in the future or likewise where do you see earth building going?

Future contributions in earthbuilding will come from space travel. For example, out of the Apollo space program to the moon, artificial joints were developed. In space, joint hinges cannot be oiled as the oil would float away. The same principle is seen in artificial human joint, as oil cannot be applied or be present in our bodies. On planets, there is a limited amount of space and resources for building materials. Yet, we need only look to what is present. For example, on Mars, the soil is readily adaptable for soil construction. The science behind seismic engineering, thermal resistivity and capacitance, along with durability and resilience are all the same needs that exist on earth. 

Young scientists and engineers are relearning about earthen construction because of the excitement of space travel and colonization which will aid greatly, at least in my view, earthen construction on earth!  Additionally, there are those throughout not only the United States but the world who are currently making advances on 3D earthen printers, on the thermal factor of earthen architecture, and on the resilience of earthen architecture … these are all current factors affecting earthbuilding.

5.  Why is it important that the general public become more educated about earthbuilding?

Earthbuilding helps the local economy through jobs, technological training, sourcing local building materials, using less energy to heat and cool our homes, and living in cleaner nontoxic spaces that often leave no carbon footprint!

Each issue we feature an individual in the earthbuilding field. If there is someone you think would be wonderful for us to interview, or about whom you would like to know more, please let us know by emailing the editor of EarthUSA News at editor@adobeinaction.org.


UPCOMING ACTIVITIES AND EVENTS

Please find below upcoming activities and events. While seeking to promote earth building activities and events, EarthUSA News cannot vet or verify all activities and events, or the entities that are organizing them. As always, please contact the entity with any questions or concerns that you may have.

Adobe in Action 2019 Online Earthbuilding Courses

Join Adobe in Action for its 8th year of offering its online Certificate in Adobe Construction. Sign up for the full spring 2019 semester of classes and receive a special discounted tuition price. Spring semester courses are as follows:

  • Passive Solar Adobe Design
    Dates: January 7 to February 17, 2019

  • New Mexico Adobe Building Permit Process
    Dates: February 18 to March 31, 2019

  • History & Basics of Adobe Construction
    Dates: April 1 to May 12, 2019

  • Foundations for Adobe Structures
    Dates: May 13 to June 23, 2019

More information on the courses, registration, and the certificate program can be found at www.adobeinaction.org/certificate-classes/.

Adobe in Action is a New Mexico-based 501c3 non-profit organization which supports owner builders with the planning and construction of adobe homes; promotes adobe home building and ownership through education and student-based field support; produces Mud Talks, a podcast dedicated to earthen construction; and organizes Earth USA, the largest biannual conference on earthbuilding in the United States.

Earthen Construction Initiative Meetings and Presentations

Board Meetings and Member Present! Speakers Series
First Tuesday of each month:
Board Meetings - 6:00 pm; Members Present! Speakers Series - 7:15 pm.
Southwest School of Art, San Antonio, TX

Earthen Construction Initiative (ECI) board meetings are held each first Tuesday of the month at 6pm at the Southwest School of Art. Following board meetings at 7:15pm, ECI hosts Members Present! a popular short-format presentation series where a member or invited speaker shares knowledge on a topic related to the use of earthen materials in building. Board meetings and Members Present! are both open-to-the-public and free to attend. ECI is also happy to announce it's first fundraiser event to take place in spring 2019. For more information on these and other ECI happenings, please visit our website at www.earthenci.org

ECI is a nonprofit organization founded in 2016 whose mission is to advance and promote earthen construction through research, education and outreach. Based in San Antonio, Texas, ECI boasts nearly 50 members from across Texas and neighboring states.

Earth USA 2019 Call for Papers

Online submissions accepted until February 15th, 2019
Abstracts must be submitted using the Earth USA 2019 online abstract submission form.

Earth USA 2019, the 10th international conference on architecture and construction with earthen materials, is now accepting abstracts for papers and presentations at the 2019 conference. Earth USA 2019 will be held in Santa, Fe, New Mexico, from October 25th to 27th, 2019. It is the largest conference dedicated to earthbuilding in the United States and draws presenters and attendees from all over the world.

All abstracts should be submitted using Earth USA 2019’s online abstract submission form. More information on paper subject categories, deadlines, and other relevant information can be found at www.earthusa.org/call-for-abstracts/.

A Call for Submissions to EarthUSA News

EarthUSA News very much welcomes your contributions. EarthUSA News promotes earth building architecture and construction as well as its its cultural, economic, environmental, historical, and social aspects. The target audience of EarthUSA News is not only those directly and indirectly involved in the field but also the general public.

Submissions can include articles, timely news, book reviews, and upcoming events or activities. They should be clearly and concisely written. Photos are also welcome. We reserve the right to edit, postpone, or reject submissions based on relevancy or other matters. We regret that at this point we cannot pay for such submissions. For more information on contributing, please do not hesitate to contact the editor at editor@adobeinaction.org.