Adobe houses are an example of vernacular architecture, meaning housing that wasn’t actually designed by an architect at all, but was built from natural materials found in abundance locally by workers with no formal education in the building arts. These days we don’t call it primitive architecture out of respect for the intelligence required to adapt and use what you have.
There is irony in the fact that modern architects frequently borrow ideas from the vernacular, or local constructions, incorporating the latest modern technology when creating the traditional “look” of the end product. And so it is that in Colonia Carlos Pellegrini, where architectural design is frequently on display, the village building codes require that only local building materials be used with traditional methods, thereby assuring that no well-heeled investors come in and build gaudy McMansions that clearly do not blend with the landscape and look of the village.
So buildings are only allowed to be one story high, and local blocks or adobe may be used for the walls, and the roofs can only be made of the corrugated metal in evidence everywhere. All of this is good for the villagers, most of whom could not get financing for anything ostentatious. The more elaborate projects do employ architects, but simple and inexpensive homes are often built with adobe, or houses made with mud, boards, and wire by the men, women, and children who will live in them. They build as they have time, and there are no mortgages to pay. In this manner, and over time, someone with the usual plot of land can add dwellings, one at a time, until they have a motel (posada) finished. The education begins early and everyone uses whatever they have handy, beginning of course, with the ubiquitous mud and espartillo grass.
The new apprentices were enthusiastic as they piled into the transport. The 4WD vehicle should get us through the marshy fields and ant hill city to meet the two local experts, who are bringing the bags of flexible grass that is so essential to the project.
Apparently the shortcut to the construction site is through this field of ant hills. Since the ants would drown if they dug down into the marsh, they build colonies above ground and these colonies are remarkably equidistant from each other. Humans can’t seem to live that close together without killing each other, but the ants seem to manage it. I am unaware of any ant wars.
These two men are the grass gatherers, which they cut and bring in large bundles on their backs to the construction site.
This is Ali, one of my students and perhaps future gaucho, riding shotgun on the running board in case we encounter any wildlife. The short ride was uneventful, except for getting stuck in the mud. Even with 4W Drive. No problem. Local Road Service was fast and effective.
With all four wheels spinning in the mud, the road service crew appeared almost instantly. The driver, who was Ali’s father, slammed the gear into reverse, and we were mud-free in two minutes. Seems they may have done this before, it was so efficient.
This special flexible grass can be bent in half without it breaking at the bend. This is critical to the success of adobe construction. Ali’s father, Leslie, is the instructor and the adobe house is being built on his property. He says the local experts are hard working and hard drinking. I can understand both. You will too if you keep reading.
Taking a large sheaf of grass and bending it in half, you then thoroughly immerse it in the mud, swishing it back and forth until all of the grass is saturated with the mud. The grass becomes very heavy. Do not try this at home without clearing it first with your physical fitness instructor and your cardiologist.
Your adobe house already has posts fixed permanently in place from the ground to the roof. Wire has been threaded through holes drilled in the upright pieces and the muddied grass is placed over this horizontal wire like you would place a towel over a shower curtain rod.
The mud daubers are constantly spreading the mud around and smoothing it over. They will scoop up more mud and apply it to places where it seems a little thin.
The mud dries quickly. Electric wires and plumbing are generally run on the outside of the walls, not inside. There are ingenious ways to camouflage these add-ons such as wire molding and other decorations.
There is no rush to construction or occupancy, and progress is made on a very flexible timetable.
Vernacular architecture is passed on from generation to generation in exactly this manner. Techniques evolve with materials, climate, and trial and error. Even today many of these methods of construction are improved only technologically, but the aesthetics remain popular and practical. And so the traditional gets recycled through the architectural schools, with glass igloos becoming popular in Scandinavia and live-edge furniture becoming the newly discovered and “more authentic” fashion in North America. And these kids–they’ve had a blast and have energy to spare. Just another day in life on the Ibera Wetlands in Colonia Carlos Pellegrini.
Thanks for visiting. Please come back, but before you leave, please share a comment for these guys to read. I’ve told them they’re famous now. Till the next time!