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Much Ado About Mud

June 2024
1min read

Adobe: Building and Living With Earth

by Orlando Romero and David Larkin, photography by Michael Freeman, Houghton Mifflin Company, 240 pages .

Here is a coffee-table book as simple and functional as its subject—mud houses. The photographer Michael Freeman uses sunlight as his best tool to illuminate adobe, and it’s the same Southwestern light that caused Spanish settlers seeking cities of gold to marvel instead at houses made from mud brick that glowed deceptively orange in the sun. His photos are primarily of New Mexico and use the holy Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a backdrop to the earthen dwellings.

Adobe gives a knowledgeable history of the varieties of adobe: from beautifully simple churches to pueblos, the terraced villages built by enjaradores , or plasterers. The book catches gracefully the accouterments of these dwellings: wooden ladders hanging out of windows connect levels of ancient apartment-style homes, while hand-carved wooden trim traces doorways. Vigas , beautiful exposed ceiling beams, give the structures their durability. When adobe weathers, it takes on the smoothness of old bone, and when it falls apart, it can be restored with new plaster. The authors treat adobe with the same awe that must have filled those searching settlers: “A natural, weathered adobe wall is all texture. One can compare it to a favorite nubby tweed jacket that has experienced the world upon one’s back and tasted the elements of life. ... the work becomes a kind of ritual that connects the owner to the cycle of the seasons.” Anyone interested in Southwestern history and architecture should like this photographic stunner.

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