Pat Bellestri-Martinez

 

Back in 1983, the University of Arizona held the 2nd Regional Conference on Earthen Building Materials. All methods of earthen construction were discussed, demonstrated and experimented with (including adobe mud blown through tubes to create a wall) by many early pioneers in the field, such as David and Lydia Miller of Fort Collins, Colo. This was our introduction to building rammed-earth walls.

 

Knowing that we would be building our home in New Mexico within a few months—initially an adobe home—we became intrigued with building an earth home with a monolithic wall of rammed earth instead of individual adobe blocks. We discovered the history of rammed earth went back thousands of years. This technique has been used in every civilization throughout history. Discoveries of these structures have been made in every major continent.

 

After a lot of planning, we began our 14-sided, 24-inch-thick rammed-earth home a few months later. Thirty years later, as a custom homebuilder, Soledad Canyon Earth Builders, we are currently finishing our 75th rammed earth home in southern New Mexico. Each is unique—no two are alike. With the exception of five of these homes, all are located in Doña Ana County, some in the city of Las Cruces, most in the county. Three of the homes have 24-inch walls; all of the others have 18-inch walls.

 

The stability, permanence and quietness of these thick walls are unlike the standard frame-construction home built for the last 50 years in the United States. An earthen home provides for comfort that can only be experienced by living in one. Words do not usually do the feeling justice!

 

We are fortunate to have in our possession a book published in 1947, The Rammed Earth House by Anthony F. Merrill, with an introduction by the Hon. Clinton P. Anderson, then-Secretary of Agriculture. From the introduction:

 

Before anyone asks what the Secretary Of Agriculture is doing at the launching of this book on rammed-earth, let me defend my right to be here. I am even willing to make the defense on either public or private grounds, for I have long been an interested admirer of earth construction. That admiration has me now ensnared in the building of an earth home of my own in the Río Grande Valley. And though the earth is the native adobe of New Mexico rather than the rammed-earth discussed here, my personal interest in any use of soils as building materials has long since included rammed-earth.”

 

I wonder where that home built in 1946 is located.

 

Our contribution to southern New Mexico’s history of earthen buildings continues through the construction of very up-to-date, beautiful homes, built to last. We will continue to recommend the choice of an earthen home as a smart move with clients, knowing that it does make a difference in their own well being as well as making a contribution to the health of the planet via “permanent” housing.

 

 

 

Pat Bellestri-Martinez is president & general contractor of Soledad Canyon Earth Builders, based in Las Cruces, New Mexico. 575.527.9897