How to repair basal damage to an 1860’s adobe church, repair structural cracks or re-mud the earthen walls of the generations-old family house? These are problems builders are rarely trained to address as wood-frame construction and modular housing have taken the place of native earthen building.

Throughout the Southwest U.S. there is critical need for preservation work on  historic adobe buildings and a burgeoning demand for “green” building, yet a diminishing cadre of skilled adobe builders. Under a 2012 grant received from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT), a team of adobe construction professionals, academics, preservationists, an engineer and an architect began to address the growing need for adobe construction training and a way to certify those skilled in all aspects of adobe building.

The project team, led by Jake Barrow of Cornerstones Community Partnerships (traditional building focus), Adobe in Action, the Adobe Construction Program of  Northern New Mexico College, Southwest Solaradobe School, the Vanishing  Treasures Program of the National Park Service, consulting engineer, and The Earthbuilders’ Guild of New Mexico, designed a training curriculum that can be  used as a model for institutions or individuals offering adobe instruction.  Particular attention was devoted to ensuring curriculum elements could be offered in an on-line form to reach those in rural areas, reservations, or with circumstances that might inhibit attending classes in-person.

Curriculum modules cover the progression of constructing an adobe structure.  Adobe Construction Basics (soils, clay/sand ratios, making adobe blocks) is the first step in the progression. The curriculum includes other modules in Adobe Foundations and Wall Design, Heating/Cooling, Passive Solar Design and Siting, Roof Design and Construction, Floor Construction, Traditional Interior and Exterior Finishes, Cement-Based Finishes, The New Mexico Earthen Building Code and Permitting Process, and preservation-specific elements such historic wall repair.

The team developed syllabuses and peer-reviewed learning objectives to accompany each module to help individuals learn adobe skills and to assist institutions in implementing an adobe construction curriculum.  The syllabuses and learning objective are available below.  Santa Fe Community College has picked up on the team’s work and plans to introduce 3 adobe modules in 2013 as part of its course offerings in the School of Trades and Technology.  Making sure that preservation-relevant elements were embedded in each of the basic learning modules was a major aim, but it became clear that a preservation specific component should be included as part of the curriculum because of the 13 special evaluation and renovation techniques needed to work on historic buildings. With few formal offerings for preservation-specific courses, two members of the team set about developing an “Adobe Preservation Basics” course to provide a hybrid on-line/hands-on training opportunity. Adobe instructor Kurt Gardella’s on-line component includes podcast interviews with adobe preservation specialists, guidelines for historic preservation work and earthen building code considerations. Old San Jose Church, built in La Mesa New Mexico circa 1860, was the site for the hands-on session in damage evaluation and basal wall repair of historic structures.