Allegretti Architects Santa Fe, New Mexico
Ponderosa Compound is a generous residence of authentic adobe construction. The development includes a 6,000 square foot, two story main house, three car garage, and a 1,000 square foot guest house. The structures wind through a grove of tall ponderosa trees on a five acre tract above Santa Fe. Views feature the Jemez mountain range to the west and the city lights in the foreground below. The design combines traditional elements with modern comforts.
Many materials are given special patinas or are hand-worked to render an antique appearance throughout. Allegrettti Architects specified many traditional finishes including saltillo tile floors, tinted plaster walls and flagstone patios. A brick “Boveda” ceiling spans a circular dining room. Radiant slab floors and central air conditioning provide year round comfort.
Ponderosa Compound was built by Wolf Corp of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Adobe is perhaps the world’s oldest of manufactured building materials. Its use spans all parts of the globe and crosses many cultures. The word “adobe” can have several meanings. In an architectural context, it is a sun-dried mud brick or a structure built from such bricks or the style of such buildings. More generally, “adobe” is used as a term for the mud used to make these bricks. The word derives through the Spanish language from several Arabic terms meaning “mix” or “smooth.”
Smooth it is. The undulating forms of adobe constructions invite tactile association. At the same time, the massive solidity inspires a sense of enduring permanence. Since the material originates from the very ground on which we walk, it carries an essential harmony with its Mother Earth.
Adobe Architecture in the Southwestern United States
Today as in times past, adobe bricks are cast in wooden forms from a mix of sand, mud and straw. Traditionally, the adobe mix is made in a pit and poured into wooden forms at a nearby drying area. In Santa Fe, bricks are sized 10” x 14” x 4”. After three or four days in the summer sun, the bricks are firm enough to be turned on edge and after three weeks or so, they are hard enough to move and stack. Adobe bricks are laid on a concrete or masonry foundation with joints of either mud or cement mortar. Doors and windows are spanned with timber lintels. A cast-in-place concrete “bond beam” tops the mud brick walls and distributes the weight of the roof beams or vigas. Walls are normally finished with plaster inside and out, but may be left exposed if desired.
Other Earth-Building Techniques
Despite the long tradition of adobe masonry in the Desert Southwest, many builders enjoy practicing other techniques of earthen construction. Pressed adobe is an automated technique of producing adobe bricks directly from a stiff mix which requires no drying time. Rammed earth construction proceeds by filling forms with a moist earth mix and then compacting to create a smooth wall with a handsome appearance. Daub and wattle (“jacal”) uses post and beam construction with an infill of smaller sticks or branches. The branches (the wattle) are then covered with adobe mud (the daub).
Sustainable Adobe Architecture
Adobes are made from materials that are almost universally available. The heavy bricks are cheap to make and expensive to transport. Adobes are therefore by necessity a locally manufactured product. Since the adobe bricks are dried by solar power, they represent zero embodied fossil energy. Adobe is certainly the oldest green-building product. Here in the Southwest, it continues to be used in much the same way as it has been for centuries.