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.