Adobe Wall Building: A Group Activity

Building with adobe is a tradition in northern New Mexico dating back thousands of years; construction with adobe in brick form as introduced by the Spanish has a lengthy history here too. Composed of basically just dirt, water, and some straw, adobe is an inexpensive, green building material, well-suited for the yard walls that front the properties Santa Fe Habitat builds. While it is possible to buy pre-made adobes – in traditional or stabilized form – the Santa Fe affiliate makes their own whenever possible since material costs are practically zero: the process consists of mixing dirt and water to make mud, mixing in some straw, and shoveling the mud into wooden forms.

In addition to being an extremely inexpensive building activity, making bricks is also an excellent activity for groups of volunteers – which is exactly what we did with a group of Young European Leaders that visited Santa Fe in early September. In kind of a funny story, I had assumed the “young leaders” were college and post-college students, and originally thought that the regional tradition of adobe building would be perfectly suited for this international crew. However as they were arriving I noticed that most of them were mid-30s in age and was beginning to question this assumption; it was at this time that we began our official introductions and I learned that 8 of the 11 were members of parliament in their home countries, 2 were international journalists, and 1 was an assistant minister of energy.

And so we came to play in the mud with international government officials.

Young European Leaders mixing mud and straw

Young European Leaders making adobe bricks

The Young European Leaders Group hosted by the Santa Fe Council of International Relations

Young European Leaders signing Sylvia and Aron’s house

Constructing the adobe walls is equally suited to working with volunteer groups and is nearly as simple as making the bricks themselves. Though we do some prep work beforehand surveying, trenching for footings, pouring concrete, laying a course of block, and setting up string lines to mark course heights, the laying of the adobes involves basically making mud mortar and setting the bricks. Though there are some subcomponents of the process such as shoveling the dirt through a screen to get a consistently-textured mortar, placing the bricks fairly precisely using the string lines, and capping the final course with concrete, adobe wall-building is straightforward – and a lot of fun. We’ve done it 3 Saturdays to date with combinations of local volunteers, groups of high school students from Santa Fe Prep, and partner families.

Laying the first courses of the adobe wall

Homeowners Sylvia and Aron building the wall in front of their house

Homeowner Carolina and Callahan laying it down

Local volunteers, partner families and a group from Santa Fe Prep working to lay the final courses of Sylvia and Aron’s adobe wall

Prep students Adrian and Bella capping the adobe wall with cement

Adobe wall team of locals, Santa Fe Prep students, and partner families

We built a wall!

Teamwork by a volunteer group of friends

Laying brick in front of Carla’s house

Homeowner Carolina

Adobe wall crew on Carla’s house