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TEG Tour – Mesilla, New Mexico - January 2023
Many thanks to Pat Taylor for his wonderful tour in Mesilla, New Mexico last weekend. We toured several properties that Pat has either worked on or is continuing to work on. He has dedicated his life to the preservation of historic earthen buildings both in the Southwest and internationally, but his work in Mesilla clearly has a special place in his catalogue. The tour was part adobe restoration lesson, part history lesson.
Historic restoration of any type of structure requires a particular kind of skill set: while one must possess the attributes that any builder must have (the ability to estimate, schedule, and manage, for example) they must also be able to "read" a structure in a very intimate way. Since the original builders are no longer with us, all we have left is the building to explain itself -- but of course, buildings do not speak loudly. It is a fact that most people would look at any of these buildings in disrepair and nervously say, "that looks bad..." and most contractors would agree, and go on to say "and that's why we should tear it down...".
This is where a particular kind of builder -- the historic restoration specialist -- becomes so important. After having worked on so many of these old buildings, Pat has developed his ability to hear that soft voice; and only with this ability is one able to reanimate its stories, see its problems, and offer up appropriate interventions to keep that building alive. It might seem easy to just say, "well, they built it with mud and lime and stone, so obviously you must fix with with like materials," but nearly a century's worth of cement plaster and concrete contra-pareds will attest that many skilled builders have failed this test before. The allure of "more durable" modern materials that offered to be "maintenance free" and more easily installed proved too great a temptation for these people, and they have caused the degradation of many an earthen structure in the southwest. Because it is a softer material, adobe in particular has been harmed by these modern interventions.
We began the tour on the Plaza at the home of Pat's father, 102-year-old former state representative J. Paul Taylor. The family has generously donated this remarkable residence to the state, known as the Taylor-Mesilla Historic Property, which in the future will become a museum open to the public, operated by the New Mexico Historic Site system. Their collection of Spanish Colonial, Mexican, and New Mexican artwork and textiles is nothing short of extraordinary. Pat did extensive restoration work on this adobe building, especially along the north wall, where there was significant basal erosion.
We also witnessed the effects of salt attack at the base of the adobe walls of the San Albino gift shop, the Taylor's restoration of the 1860's era Guadalupe House, and Pat's latest project, the restoration of the 1880's era Allins House on Calle Oeste. Prior to the tour, the TEG board held their regular meeting at the historic Armijo House in Las Cruces, another architectural treasure of southern New Mexico rescued from demolition by many dedicated people, including Pat Taylor.
Kenny DeLapp and Esther Fredrickson - TEG Board Members
Taylor-Mesilla Historic Property: nmhistoricsites.org/taylor-mesilla
Salt attack in adobe structures, Adobe in Action Mud Talks podcast featuring Eric Liefeld of Mesilla Valley Preservation, Pat Taylor: https://www.adobeinaction.org/mud-talks/2022/02/16/mud-talks-15-3-capillary-action-permeability-salt-attack
Guadalupe House: guadalupehouse.org
Nestor Armijo House: lascruces.com/las-cruces-history-the-nestor-armijo-house
LMA Designs Adobe Tiny Home to Address California Housing Crisis
Designed by Loescher Meachem Architects, Santiago Adobe is a prototype Tiny Home located in the unincorporated community of Landers, in Mojave Desert, California and expected to pull permits later this year. The client purchased a 10 acre lot to build his own tiny home upon, using his own hands and the ground beneath him. The 399 SF Adobe is made on-site using local soil harvested from excavation. Phased construction is scheduled, starting with the shading pergola which will provide an area for sheltered construction staging. The depressed slab provides additional earth sheltering and takes advantage of over-excavation usually required by code due to the area’s loose, granitic soils. The Adobe is stabilized with asphalt emulsion, a low-embodied carbon and traditional Californian use of a by-product of petroleum refining reflective of the project's ethic of practical (rather than fundamentalist) sustainability.
Santiago Abode consists of a simple rectangular volume with open floor plan and split-level loft bedroom perched above the bathroom and utility area. As the building is designed around California’s Tiny House Code which limits the building area to less than 400 SF, the layout employs an incredibly efficient use of space, with custom furniture and clever storage solutions which make the most of spatial constraints. Patio doors open on either side of the living room, and the south facing side of the kitchen, to allow for cross ventilation, and to extend the living space into the outdoors. An adobe banco / seat wall wraps around the perimeter of the patio and connects to an outdoor adobe wood burning stove, which provides heating to the property. The all-electric home uses 100% on-site renewable energy provided by photovoltaics allowing lower operational costs and no ongoing expenses related to grid connection.
In the context of a housing crisis created by widespread conversion of long-term rentals into short-term tourist accommodation, this model empowers everyday people to pick up a shovel and build their own home using the soil beneath their feet. Adobe is an affordable, accessible, and sustainable building material and has long-standing roots in California and across the globe. It is essential for all future builds, but particularly those located in the desert, to address the issues brought about by imminent climate change through solar orientation, shading strategies and self-sufficient renewable energy. Through its small scale and smaller footprint, Santiago Adobe uses fewer construction materials, requires less energy to heat and cool, and aims to be the future model for desert living.
Ben Loescher - TEG Board Member
CEB Certification, Part 1 - A Brief Discussion
As many may know, and quite a few have taken up on, TEG offers an Adobe Certification for those desiring to have a form of accreditation regarding their knowledge and abilities to work with adobe blocks as a construction material. This is currently the only certification that TEG offers, albeit there are two versions of this certification based on the approach of having a more basic and fundamental knowledge versus a more specific and construction centric level of proficiency. Nonetheless, these certifications are applicable only to adobe blocks and their usage, and do not readily apply to the other forms of earthen, including rammed earth, cob, and compressed stabilized earth blocks (CSEB). I am a CSEB manufacturer, and I have long pondered whether TEG should, or even could, offer a CSEB Certification similar to the Adobe Certification. I will, hopefully, in this article start a discussion about this issue and how it might be achieved if the decision is made for TEG to offer it.
The rationale for offering a certification for adobe construction is worth a quick look. As our TEG mission states, we as an organization are focused on supporting and growing the earthen construction industry as a whole. Having and offering a certificate that objectively demonstrates a practitioner’s knowledge of adobes has been a proven means of delivering on this mission, specifically for adobes, but also as a useful template for certificates for the other forms of earthen construction. Other construction trades such as carpenters and masons have long been using certifications as a means of ensuring that those who engage in them are knowledgeable and competent. In the earthen construction industry, we have long used a more colloquial vernacular to express what we know and understand about earthen. This has been an acceptable approach for the most part because there has not been the same scrutiny of our beloved dirt as has been given to concrete, wood, steel, and any number of other construction materials. However, we are now running up against an increasingly more rigorous set of codes and regulations, which leads to the inescapable fact that we must be able to demonstrate our respective capabilities and knowledge in order to get a construction permit, much less get approval for a design. We believe that by offering a certification, based on proven information and experience, we are taking this need seriously.
A brief description of CSEB is warranted. The knowledge of adobes is broad, and this material is well understood. The knowledge base and understanding of CSEB manufacturing is quite paltry compared to adobes, and this is a result of several challenging issues.
The first issue is one of understanding the materials that go into making CSEB. A quick note here – non-stabilized compressed earth blocks are often denoted as CEB, which use the exact same materials as CSEB except for the stabilizing constituent material. CEB are essentially the same blocks as CSEB but cannot withstand the rigors of moisture pumping or actual wetting the same way that CSEB can. This is important for reasons that I will explain in upcoming articles. So, back to the issue. The materials that make up CSEB are in the same “family” as rammed earth materials and relatively similar to adobe and cob. The principal ingredient in all of these is the clay content. Understanding what happens to clay in either an air-dried application (adobe, cob) or in a compressed state (CSEB, rammed) is crucial to understanding how to make quality earthen construction products. Additionally, there are critical aspects of the other constituent materials (silt, sand, aggregate) that dramatically affect the quality of CSEB, in ways that adobes are not generally affected. Knowing these aspects as well as how they affect the blocks should be part of any certification effort.
The second issue is that CSEB do not have the deep and rich history of adobes (or rammed and cob as well) so there is much less existing information surrounding this product. This is because only in the last 40 years, or thereabouts, have the means of producing CSEB in other than a simple hand press (such as the CINVA ram) been invented and improved on. The mechanisms that produce CSEB are quite different from adobes and represent a financial and educational investment similar, but very different in the specifics, to those faced when learning how to manufacture adobes. Having the wherewithal to purchase the equipment necessary to make CSEB is just the first in a series of very challenging hurdles. Any certification efforts should at least include what equipment is needed and how it is used in order to make CSEB.
The third issue is one of understanding the operational manufacturing processes that lead to a quality CSEB being produced. This is perhaps the most consequential aspect of CSEB, at least from the perspective of what can go wrong in the various steps of making blocks. There are multiple facets of the block making operations that affect the block quality, from hydration (amount, duration, ambient atmospheric humidity, exposure to air, etc.) to compaction (duration, machine pressure, mold accuracy, etc.) to handling (runout on the conveyor, block stacking on pallets, cure time, etc.) Almost any one thing in the issues just mentioned (not to mention at least that many more not detailed) can affect the quality of the block to an astonishing degree. Knowing what the problem is and how to resolve it is an absolutely critical part of CSEB production. Certification for this issue can happen at multiple levels of expertise and should be determined beforehand and must be part of any certification effort, which can range from extended hands-on instruction to more formal classroom education and training.
The fourth major issue is one that is more subjective on its face, and yet can probably be solved in relatively short order as this entire certification question is decided. The issue is that there are very few CSEB experts available to educate and instruct on how to make a quality block in large quantities. All of the previous issues had to be individually discovered, experienced, wrestled with, and eventually overcome in order to arrive at a point where one could be considered a CSEB expert. Not an easy task, as I have come to understand, but one that is nevertheless possible. If TEG is to offer up a CSEB certification, it must be created and overseen (to a reasonable level) by existing experts in the field. This would require commitment and sharing of hard-won expertise and knowledge, not an easy thing to ask of people who are working to make a living, especially given the fitful nature of earthen construction. If we are to offer a CSEB certification, then over time those who are certified can take up the load and the whole CSEB segment of the earthen construction industry will start to grow holistically.
These are at least four of the main issues that I, as a CSEB manufacturer, can see at this point. I intend to explore each issue, as well as several more such as the lack of industry standards for CSEB, in depth over a series of TEG newsletter articles similar to what I provided for the research work that we did over the last 5 years or so. The difference in this series is that I would ask that anyone that reads this and either has questions or would like to contribute to this series, please contact me (email@example.com) and I will do my best to answer and incorporate your input into future CSEB certification articles.
M. John Jordan; TEG Board Member-at-Large; President, Paverde LLC
TEG Member, School of Constructive Arts, Offering Two Workshops
The workshop details are as follows, follow links for details:
Build A Brick Sh*thouse (BABS) w/Jim Hallock Dates: March 12-18th www.constructivearts.org/babs
Earthen Vaults w/Jim Hallock Dates: April 10-14th www.constructivearts.org/earthen-vaults
They are also hosting volunteers over the course of two sessions:
Session 1: February 26 - March 18th
Session 2: March 26 - April 15th
Update on Old Dowlin Mill in Ruidoso
This is a progress report on the restoration since the last update in Newsletter #12. The Old Dowlin Mill in Ruidoso was severely damaged in an explosion in 2017. While the adobe walls remained standing, the gutted and roofless structure was generally assumed to be beyond repair, just waiting for the elements or a bull dozer to complete its destruction.
Fortunately for the community, the owners determined to re-build this landmark to Ruidoso and Lincoln County. The Restoration work began in 2019 and the details are covered in Newsletter #10 and #12. This article picks up in 2021.
Plans were drawn up for an open, timber framed roof structure to replace the one blown off in the explosion. The roof line had gone through a couple of changes over the years and a clear idea of what or when it was “original” was impossible to determine. The new roof follows the profile as has been for at least 80 or 90 years.
Early March saw the delivery of timbers for the trusses and by April the weather was warm enough to start laying adobes again. Lintels were cut and set over the openings for the doors and windows and good progress was made on rebuilding the walls. We got several loads of adobes from Pat Taylor in Mesilla and we used all of the original blocks we could salvage. Part of re-building the walls involved un-building portions, especially around doors and windows where the block or mortar joint had been fractured. Quite often, whole blocks could be removed and re-used and even pieces often found their way back into the wall. The chunks and fragments that were unusable were hauled down to the equipment yard and crushed to make new blocks. During the summer we made about 1500 new adobes to help finish the walls.
With the walls going up nicely the crew was split up part of the time to begin building the trusses in July. This was a considerable project in its own right that included fabricating all of the metal gusset plates and drilling the 3000+ holes to bolt them all together. The building of the roof is a story in its own right. I might also mention during all of this activity we had one of the wettest monsoon seasons in recent years. Without a roof on the building, the walls had to be covered and uncovered to protect them from the rain. To keep the interior of the building from becoming a lake, it had been filled with dirt so that the floor sloped from one end to the other and the rain water would drain through the door on the west end and out to the culverts under the street. These rains also claimed a number of the new. un-cured adobes that were still on the ground.
By October the long sidewalls were complete and the wooden bond beams were anchored into place. By November the trusses were all set and the roof decking was going down. Winter was closing in fast. It was now too cold to lay block so the gable end walls were left unfinished until the spring of the next year. It didn’t matter, on December 13, the metal roofing was finished and the Old Mill was a building once more.
Rob Taylor - TEG Board Member
TEG Honorary Membership Nominations
The Board of Directors is accepting nominations for Honorary Lifetime Membership in TEG.
Deadline for nominations is March 1, 2023.
Email your nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Honorary Lifetime Membership Criteria
One Honorary Lifetime Membership may be awarded to a member of the earthbuilding industry annually, with a two-thirds majority approval of the Board of Directors. Nominees should be submitted in writing to the Board by any member(s) in good standing, with a description as to why the nominee should receive this recognition, along with the material to substantiate the reasoning. The nominee should be of good character, meet TEG’s ethical standards and must meet at least two of the three criteria listed below for consideration. Submissions must be received by March 1st of 2020; the Board will announce its decision by the end March.
The Nominee should be considered for the following accomplishments:
Advancement of Earthen Construction
Research related to better understanding of earthen materials
Development of earthen material technology
Advancement in earthen engineering
Service to the Community
Increase in public awareness and recognition of earthen construction
Charitable and social benefit work
Service to the Trade and Organization
Contribution to TEG as an organization
Work enabling and serving earthen tradespeople and professionals
Pat Martinez Rutherford - TEG Board Member
Save the Date:
Earth USA 2024 - September 13 to 15, 2024
Earth USA 2024 will be Adobe in Action's 12th International Conference on Architecture & Construction with Earthen Materials. The formal conference will take place from Friday, September 13 to Sunday, September 15, 2024 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Earth USA 2024 indicates a wider field of interest than previous conferences and includes adobe, rammed earth, compressed earth block (CEB) and monolithic adobe (cob). Any material or method that uses clay as a binder is considered. Activities included:
Three days of podium presentations and poster sessions on topics related to the current state of architecture and construction with earthen materials.
Friday evening Speaker Meet & Greet for all conference attendees sponsored by The Earthbuilders' Guild.
Tours to local earthbuilding sites of interest in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Full details about past, present, and future conferences can be found at www.earthusa.org.
Kurt Gardella - Adobe in Action Executive Director & TEG Board Member
Santa Fe Community College
Adobe Program Updates
The spring 2023 semester at SFCC is in full swing with all three classes currently full. The blended-learning Finishes Practices class - led by instructor Issac Logsdon - will be meeting at a building site in Santa Fe in the early spring to cover the basics of earthen and lime plasters.
In other department news, the SFCC Curriculum Committee just approved the creation of a new Adobe Preservation Certificate at the college. This gives students an additional pathway towards finding employment in the earthen building industry. Partners of the new Adobe Preservation Certificate are Cornerstones Community Partnerships and Pat Taylor Inc. Historic Preservation. Students of the new certificate will be able to carry out field training with these partners via a summer Adobe Practicum class.
Full details about the Adobe Construction Program at SFCC can be found here.
Kurt Gardella - SFCC Adjunct Faculty & TEG Board Member
TEG has begun a project of compiling bios/stories of those people who have contributed to our industry over the years. We are interested in receiving bios from anyone who can add to our library of knowledge in a salute to those who make up the history of earthen construction. Send your submissions to email@example.com.
Criteria for submissions to Earthen Legends:
One whose profession was in the field of earthen construction – building homes, commercial buildings, adobe making, rammed earth, compressed earth blocks, scebs and manufacturing of materials and products used in earthen construction.
In the field of education – teaching earthen construction
Authors on the subject of earthen buildings/materials/architecture.
Architects, engineers, and designers of earthen construction.
TEG Board of Directors Position Open
The Board has an opening available for a seat on the Board of Directors. We meet 6 times a year at varying locations in New Mexico - primarily Albuquerque. Over the last year we have been meeting via Zoom. The position provides for many opportunities to network, keep informed, visit earth building sites, and work with committed industry professionals. Please submit your qualifications and a letter of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any questions, please ask. We would welcome your participation. For your perusal, minutes from our meetings are posted on TEG’s website: www.theearthbuildersguild.com