Soledad Canyon Earth Builders is a company specializing in rammed earth home construction. Located in Las Cruces, New Mexico, they have been building “Uniquely New Mexican” custom homes since 1985. I recently had the privilege of interviewing the president of the company, Pat Bellestri-Martinez, about the process of building a rammed earth home.
Joey Fleming: I imagine that rammed earth construction attracts creative individuals as clients. How closely do you work with your clients in the design of the house? Do any projects come to mind where the client had an extremely unique idea or an especially difficult idea that you were able to successfully implement?
Pat Bellestri-Martinez: The core of our business is working with our clients every step of the way in designing their home. The home that comes to mind is for clients who wanted their Native American roots to be incorporated into the design of their home. In a kiva style the great room/kitchen is centered around a sunken pit, with a center fireplace. The ceiling incorporated vigas and latillas to a center point. (see photos)
JF: What are some benefits of rammed earth constructions over other construction methods?
PBM: The benefits of rammed earth include:
- Fire resistant
- Protection from exterior noise - quietness
- Energy Efficient
- Bug resistant
- A Mass wall – 18” of “protection” from the exterior elements
- The mass wall helps to control the interior temperature of the home.
- Local building materials – the soils are local.
JF: How easily can rammed earth walls be altered/retrofitted after they are constructed? For example, how easily could a person add nichos or extra doors after the building has been constructed? And how easily can additions be built onto an existing structure?
PBM: Additions to a rammed earth are best if planned into the original design. For example a window opening can turn into a door opening at a future date.
Adding a nicho, or any other reason to open up a rammed earth wall is work. It is a solid, compacted wall. It takes a jackhammer or such to make a change to a rammed earth wall.
JF: Do you run into any difficulties with assessment agents/code inspectors compared to more conventional construction? Do inspectors know what to look for when they approach a rammed earth building?
PBM: New Mexico has specific codes for Rammed Earth Construction. We have been building rammed earth homes for 30 years, so the inspectors do not have any issues with the construction method in our area.
JF: Rammed earth construction gives me the impression that locality is an important consideration in your work. Are you able to source your building materials locally? If so, could you speak to the significance of this?
PBM: The soil composition is the key to a successful rammed earth wall construction. We have access to the perfect soil in our area (southern New Mexico). We regularly test our soil for its strength under compression.
JF: Going along with the theme of locality, is there an established climate requirement for the location of a rammed earth house? For example, how much annual rain is acceptable, and what temperature range is best?
PBM: The desert southwest is an ideal climate for Rammed earth and adobe construction. As with any construction care must be given to keep moisture away from the walls.
Although we are not familiar with building in other parts of the country, there are buildings constructed from rammed earth in rainy climates. I cannot speak to that with authority.
JF: Lastly, do you draw design influences and inspiration from other contemporary designers or historic sources?
PBM: Our homes follow the traditional southwestern/pueblo style architecture. What is important to us is that our homes are timeless. We want our homes to blend into the natural environment of the Southwest. We do not want to date our homes. A Soledad Home is identifiable whether it was built in 1990 or 2014. It is the thick walls, with recessed windows that give the observer the clue that it is a Soledad Canyon Earth Builders rammed earth home.
Building “Green” began, for us 30 years ago and it started out Brown!
Thank you to Pat Bellestri-Martinez for making time for this interview, and to Soledad Canyon Earth Builders for the photos! To learn more about rammed earth construction, visit their website at http://www.adobe-home.com!
Tonight I’ll be posting Wood and Architecture’s first interview, featuring Pat Bellestri-Martinez, President of Soledad Canyon Earth Builders, a design/build firm in Las Cruces, NM. My plan when starting this blog has always been to eventually move into hosting original content in the Design and Architecture world, so this interview is the first step toward that goal. Look for the post later tonight!