The Adobe Alliance Blog
Call for Restoration Volunteers to the Adobe Alliance in the Big Bend Country
Those keenly interested in working with the sustainable material of mud brick now are invited to the sudden opportunity to assist engineer Fernando Pina of Mexico to restore the fallen vault at Swan House & Lab, in Presidio, Texas, on the Rio Grande river (Rio Bravo in Mexican) which separates the US from Mexico. The session is free, and principally for those who wish to learn through hard work. Beginning October 10th Fernando will hand craft a Nubian vaulted roof measuring 23’ x 10’ in the 2000 sf house built in 1997 by Simone Swan, student of Dr. Hassan Fathy of Egypt (1900-1989) and her partner Maria Jesus Jimenez. All roof bricks are hand-made in Mexico. The Adobe Alliance stands on 500 acres of scenic Chihuahuan desert in Big Bend country. Camping and hot showers (gratis) are available immediately, whereas the kitchen will be operating as soon as the vault is rebuilt.
Please call (505 988 2828) or email firstname.lastname@example.org, asap. Bring preferably passport to cross border at the bridge, or driver’s license. For every day bring drinking water, your dog, sun protection, a bucket, flashlight and camping material.
Directions: Take 67 south from Marfa, TX, 60 miles to Presidio, turn left onto paved farm road 170 east through the town (twice at sharp right angles). After passing Fort Leaton proceed for 4-5 miles until you reach sign for
unpaved Casa Piedra Road, turn left and Swan House is 1.5 miles up, alone on the right.
The house will be waterproofed after vaults are covered with a natural plaster developed by geological engineer Robert Kirby.
1. Help Save the Adobe-Vaulted Swan House
Since its traditional Nubian vaults took form on the Texas fringe of the Chihuahuan desert, the Swan House has represented a vision of earth architecture — affordable, graceful, and environmentally responsive. The house has served as an educational center where the transference of Hassan Fathy's architectural vision, modern while incorporating traditional climatically sound devices, was brought from his studio in Cairo to the borderlands of Texas (and the greater Southwest) by Simone Swan who apprenticed with him in Egypt. Swan’s vision is still to teach and to demonstrate affordable housing, community involvement, and educational potential rooted in the viability of earth-based organic construction. At the site, Swan's organization, Adobe Alliance, has based studios and workshops since 1997. Now, after the catastrophic storms and persistent rains of 2013 and 2014 the house needs your help and attention. Having suffered serious vault collapse it calls to an extended community of friends and professionals for help restoring, preserving, and re-activating it. -- Dennis Dollens, 2/28/2015.
Rainfall has quadrupled in intensity since 2013, during 2014 and part of 2015. When built in 1997-98, the house withstood average rainfall over 15 years of 10" per year. Consequently the house exterior was earth-plastered, with occasional patching and new plasters where and when needed. Damage due to climate change was not foreseen.
3. Plan for Restoration
a). Community organization for support and volunteers.
b). Survey of damage and collateral damage.
c). Assessment with, by and on-site team in consultation with international experts and practitioners.
d). Formulate and test local earth for adobes, plaster and mortar composition.
e). Rebuilding of caved vaults.
f). Replastering of all roofs and walls to withstand rains, material to be determined.
4. Restorers, Volunteers, Helpers
Friends, admirers and former builders at Swan House please renew your relationship at this time in the house's physical rescue — we need builder-volunteers, financial aid, grant-writing assistance, and media and public relations contacts. For former students and apprentices if you know sources to tap for contributions or grants please contact us to coordinate approaches.
5. Friends of Adobe Alliance
Antonio Santos de Sousa, architect,Santa Fe NM
Margaret Santos de Sousa, architect, Santa Fe NM
Rick Joy, architect, Tucson AZ
Mauricio Rocha, architect, Mexico DF
J. Gibbs, Tucson architect
Roberto Carvajal, Chihuahua architect
Philipp Neher, Tucson
Wm Menking, NYC, editor of ArchNewspaper
Sissy Farenthold, attorney & board member, Houston
Salma Samar Damluji, London/Beirut
Gina Papanikola, architect, Athens & Addis Abeba
Andrew Vernooy, TX Tech architecture school, Lubbock
Chris Taylor, Texas Tech architecture school, Lubbock
Stephen Fox, critic, Houston
Claude Hayward, builder NM
Ana de la Rosa, architect Chihuahua city
Mark Gunderson, architect Fort Worth
Beverley Spears, architect Santa Fe.
Bob Vint, architect, Tucson
6. Time frame
October 10, 2015 until completion.
cell 505 988 2828
The forthcoming Adobe Alliance October 24, 2014 event in Presidio, Texas, is in Big Bend country -- very much prized by Texans. On a road map you can see the bend in the Rio Grande river, called the Rio Bravo in Mexico. Also, you will notice that the hamlet of Presidio, 60 miles south of Marfa, is reachable by scenic route only. The landscape is breathtakingly splendid. In October this edge of the Chihuahuan Desert is in full bloom -- yucca, sotol, bi-colored fragrant mustard, Indian tobacco and the yellow-blossomed creosote bush. 80% of the population of about 3,500 speaks Spanish.
Participating will be Portuguese Fulbright scholar and architect Pilar Abreu Lima, two architects from Tucson's Rick Joy studios, Shawn Protz and Bach Tran, Fatima Rizvi, junior architect from Pakistan, artist Jeff Jennings of Houston, designer Lisa Ano from Los Angeles, Texan builder Derrick Thomas, permaculturalist Daniele Belle from Italy, student Amy Melick from Corpus Christi, Texas, and writer/builder neighbor Mark Glover. The group will be kept small but enquiries are welcome.
As mentioned before, the Swan House & Lab compound has suffered from climate change in the form of torrential tropical rains in this Chihuahuan desert where normal annual rainfall does not exceed 10 inches. This prompts us to organize a fruitful project in restoration. We will plaster damaged walls with a mix of clay and lime, and rebuild two vaulted adobe roofs, all the while documenting our work closely. The parts of the two vaults that fell in the rains were built by students during workshops -- vaults built by skilled artisans in 1998 did not fall. The restoration will take place under the careful tutelage of adobe builder Maria Jesus Jimenez and of Simone Swan who brought the skill to the region.
Beginners will mix mortar, heft buckets to the builders and plasterers, mix plasters of lime and clay and will acquire familiarity with the material of mud where handling is different in gestures from troweling with cement. We shall complete this work with a lime wash, meaning a thin coat which is painted over the plaster. Experienced masons, perched on scaffolds, will teach the careful and patient placing of each adobe to complete a vaulted roof and ceiling.
You will learn about the inspiration behind this enterprise: the architect-philosopher-ecologist Hassan Fathy of Egypt (1900-1989) whose book is recommended reading, in French as Construire avec le peuple (Building With The People) or published in English as Architecture For The Poor (Chicago U) even though such sustainable and pure architecture is not for the poor only. The book can be found in Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese. We will hold sessions in designing with earth, its chemical ad physical properties, its history as building material, the mechanics of dome and vault building and more.
Most important you will learn that in dry climates it is neither impossible nor illegal to build your own earthen house, cooperatively or not. In humid climates such as Japan and Vietnam, adobe walls must be protected by a large roof overhang.
Tuition costs: $400 for a long week-end. $850 per week, $1,100 for 2 weeks, longer is negotiable.
Please mail a non-refundable advance of $100 no later than September 1st after which tuition is increased by $100.
Payable to the Adobe Alliance account #0032628301, Los Alamos National Bank, 301 Griffin Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501, USA, attention Ms. Linda Smith.
No future workshops or events are scheduled until the compound and 510 acres will be up for sale, preferably to a institution of learning. The soul and activities of Adobe Alliance will thrive wherever Simone and team will stand, possibly in Tucson, Arizona, which is reachable easily. Meantime we are invited to teach in Nepal, Colombia and Mexico.
Lodging details and directions to the Adobe Alliance, 1520 Casa Piedra Road, Presidio Texas 79845, are on the website here.
On February 20th the architecture school at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia held a celebration in memory of the great architect Louis I. Kahn. Simone was invited to contribute to a panel discussion on the occasion of the publication of William Whitaker's book Brought To Light: The Houses of Louis I. Kahn.
February 24th, 2014, Simone gave a presentation From the Nile to the Rio Grande at Columbia University architecture school about her apprenticeship with Dr. Hassan Fathy (1900-1989) in Egypt and about her ensuing experiences with adobe design and building at Presidio, Texas.
Letter from Simone Swan:
Climate change having severely damaged Swan House & Lab in Presidio, Texas, I got to work to find a team to first repair the plaster. The team was headed by Stevan de la Rosa, adobe pilgrim, former participant in an Adobe Alliance workshop in 2006, and constant friend. Stevan hired three local workers and one from Minnesota who came along with him. The work took two weeks, the results of plastering with clay, straw and lime are positive. They seem resistant to our new tropical rains in the Chihuahuan desert, and look very professional -- substantial, carefully administered, promising -- a job so thorough that Stevan's report is included here with photos below:
Next urgent project is to rebuild caved-in vaults built by students under the tutelage of Jesusita Jimenez and myself. The original four vaults built in 1998 by Mario Rodriguez, Jesusita Jimenez and Joaquin Valenzuela are structurally undamaged. One of them built by students after 2006 has fallen a length of 4 or so feet, the other built by student architects needs about two days restoration. We are recruiting experts, including Joaquin. The placement of each small, lightweight adobe brick takes some expertise and skill, precise attention and at least prior experience.
When done, we foresee the work to happen in October 2014. Furthermore, at the kind insistence of professor John Morony of Del Rio, Texas, the entire surfaces of walls, vaults and our beautiful dome will receive a lime wash for further protection from the treacherous elements of water and sun.
I am now busy working since the summer of 2013 on my archive with Chrissy McMillan of Tucson, also advised by extraordinary writer and translator Ronald Christ of Santa Fe. Archivist Chrissy, Princeton graduate in architecture, is married to Shawn Protz who works with Rick Joy. The Joy office is friendly to the aims of the Adobe Alliance, and our work spaces are in the charming traditional neighborhood of the barrio viejo, south of downtown Tucson. Please call 505 988 2828 or visit or write. News is always welcome from those interested or even obsessed with earth architecture.
I shall actively put the Swan complex with its 500 acres on the world market, to be purchased by a teaching institution. Proceeds from such a sale will allow us to build our headquarters here in accessible Tucson, Arizona.
Simone Swan, founder/director, Adobe Alliance, future itinerant designer/builder of low-cost high energy adobe housing. Teaching destinations are in Nepal, Colombia and Mexico. Mailing address: 600 south 9th Avenue, Tucson, Arizona, USA, 85701. mobile phone 505 988 2828.
Lime Plastering Session. March 23 to end of April.
Climate change in the Chihuahuan desert now threatens us with enough rain to justify waterproofing adobe structures with lime. We have used so far earth plasters for over a decade when rainfall remained at 10" a year. As soon as we have a date to hire a professional plasterer, and right now estimates are being submitted, we shall invite student workers to participate in sessions at Swan House & Lab, no tuition. To render walls waterproof the plaster will contain sand, lime, cactus juice and a minimal amount of cement. Jesusita Jimenez will be with us, our long time friend and teacher.
From March 15 to March 22, Adobe Alliance will plan an exchange of skills with master builder Vaughn Fryfogle of Mississippi: He will demonstrate his advanced plastering methods which resist 100" of rain annually in Lucedale, near Mobile, in exchange for mastering the engineering technique we teach to build a hemispheric domed roof and the Nubian vault out of small adobes. Students wishing to attend during that week will be monitored by Jesusita. Tuition fee March 15 to March 22 is $500 cash. Donations in kind such as ladders and wheelbarrows are accepted and can be pre-arranged with email@example.com.
Student/workers who wish to plaster after March 23, open ended through April are charged no tuition. Those experienced in working with lime plasters are particularly welcome.
Camping at Swan House is available @ $10 a day, water is solar-pumped from the arroyo and the privy boats the most beautiful view over 40,000 acres of Big Bend State Park. Participants will benefit from the outdoor hot shower if they are frugal, and will have some kitchen privileges. Food is sold at the one market in Presidio or at the lavish supermarket across the bridge in Ojinaga, Mexico. To return to the US on the same bridge proof of citizenship is required, preferably a passport. Delightfully temperate weather lasts through March when the entire desert is in bloom. Winds rise in April.
Erratum: Pakistan March 2013: Simone's invitation to teach in the Sindh valley for two weeks is indefinitely postponed because of socio-political disturbances.
March 2013: Two Weeks In An Eco-Village In The Sindh Valley West Of Karachi, Pakistan.
ADOBE ALLIANCE is invited by renowned architect Jasmeen Lari of the Heritage foundation in Karachi, Pakistan, to teach the craft of building by hand vaulted and domed woodless roofs out of small sun-baked mud bricks with families of refugees still in need of housing after the devastating floods of 2011. Simone Swan will teach the week of March 11, 2013. The following week she will teach a class of architecture students from Karachi how to begin building the Nubian vault, a barrel vault, and a semi-spherical domed roof, also by hand, using no centering, no industrial material.
Chihuahua City, No Firm Date, Spring-Summer 2013:
We shall build with families in need of structurally sound affordable mud brick housing. To avoid the costs of industrial materials such as beams and roofing, builders will learn the craft of constructing roofs by hand in the configuration of the Nubian vault and hemispherical domes, using small sun-dried adobe bricks. We foresee that projects in Chihuahua will be long term.
For further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Adobe Alliance, Inc., is a Texas non-profit corporation. Donations are tax-deductible and much welcomed for maintenance of the 500 acre property.