Using concrete and mud bricks, architects Solanito Benítez, Gloria Cabral, María Rovea y Ricardo Sargiotti have constructed a unique wall by hastening the erosion of the mud by washing it away once the concrete mortar had cured, leaving voids in the places where mud bricks were set.
Australian rap star Iggy Azalea grew up in a house that her father built by hand from mud bricks, surrounded by 5 hectares of land. She reminisces about it in her song Work:
You can hate it or love it
Hustle and the struggle is the only thing I’m trusting
Thorough bread in a mud brick before the budget
White chick on that Pac shit
My passion was ironic
And my dreams were uncommon
These food storage jars were made of radioactive earth from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster area in Japan. They were designed by Royal College of Art graduate student Hilda Hellström who contacted the last person still living inside the evacuation zone, Naoto Matsumura, and collected soil from his rice fields that can’t be farmed due to contamination.
There is nothing new under the sun is an installation comprised of rammed earth and created for the 2012 Venice Biennial. The installation was done within the collateral event, “Traces of Century and Future Steps”, organised and curated by artist Rene Rietmeyer (head of the Global Art Affairs Foundation) and hosted at the Palazzo Bembo just next to the Rialto bridge. The architects Estudio Altiplano, from Bogota, Colombia, were given a space at the fourth floor of a 15th century palace to install the work—a performance piece that consisted of hoisting 3.5 tons of earth into the small chamber then compacting it into a solid rammed earth object. The work engaged many participants, simultaneously a demonstration in the process of fabricating allowing a discussion to emerge about topics of tradition, contemporaneity, territory and the built environment.
The installation formally suggests to the observer how architecture depends on matter in the form of territory, energy and resources. Earth was used to demonstrate how earth is a basic building material used all over the world and that traditional building techinques necessarily depend on oral tradition or transformation of knowledge to evolve and survive. Additionally, the use of earth demonstrated the plastic notion that conjures the act of subtracting compacted earth from the ground to mold it into new shapes without interfering in its material capacities. A continued discussion surrounding the project continues at http://www.rammedweb.com/
A new site-specific installation of works by Andy Goldsworthy opened on the island of Alderney, located in the Bailiwick of Guernsey in the English Channel Islands. Alderney Stones consists of an installation of 11 boulders spread across the landscape of Alderney.
Goldsworthy formed each 3-ton boulder from a mold of rammed earth and other materials sourced from the island, such as berries, seeds, old tools and discarded gloves.
Set in varying degrees of exposure to the elements, the stones will eventually erode, revealing the elements concealed inside, and ultimately return to the land from which they came.
As the first rammed-earth construct in the City of Tacoma, The Tidal Resonance Chamber provides a contemplative and relaxation space for users of the Center for Urban Waters (a LEED Platinum Marine research and analysis facility) . Aimed at serving as an instrument for perceptual synchronize with the natural rhythms of Commencement Bay, the chamber’s thick insulated earthen walls buffer out the heavy industrial sounds of the surrounding Port of Tacoma, and through a series of feed back pump operations the chamber’s water level mirrors that of the Thea Foss Waterway manifesting as a ratio-reduction.
Designed by Robert Horner, the Tidal Resonance Chamber’s main interior space has a trapezoidal footprint roughly 12’ x 18’. The fortified rammed-earth walls measure 8’6” in height, and rest atop a concrete foundation that measures 4’ in height. The chamber has a maximum filling capacity of 2500 gallons, which will fill at the highest of high tides. The interior of the chamber is filled with reclaimed granite curb fragments, river stones and will eventually populate with micro-organisms, barnacles and other aquatic lifeforms.
Abey Smallcombe is a collaboration between artists Jackie Abey and Jill Smallcombe. Their craft is working with cob, earth plasters and other natural beautiful, sustainable materials. They have successfully carried out a number of large and smaller scale commissions for, the Eden Project, Somerset College of Arts and Technology, The Devon Guild of Craftsmen, Met Office, National Trust, Sustrans Cycle Paths. They have also exhibited nationally, taught all age groups, lectured internationally and researched earth structures in Europe, USA, India, Africa and Australia.
The project is reminiscent of Smiljan Radic’s Casa del Carbonero. This is not Goldsworthy’s first foray into earth art. His project, Clay Wall, is a large clay plastered wall that uses human hair from his home village as a binder.
A curious relationship between mud brick architecture and the automobile exists in two very important earthen architecture building cultures: among the Ndebele people of South Africa, whose vividly painted mud brick houses have been transposed to the automobile, and in northern New Mexico where the descendants of the Spanish colonists created a unique style of mud brick architecture from which emerged the invention of the lowrider.
The Ndebele people of South Africa are famous for the the colorful patterns applied to the exterior of their houses, which are made of a mixture of dung, mud, and clay. Their distinctive house-painting style, originally based on a similar but less colourful style originally developed by the Northern Sotho or Pedi, flowered and achieved its creative pinnacle within the almost slave-like conditions which the Ndebele endured on the white-owned farms of the south-eastern Transvaal during the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.
The almost exclusively female creators of these arts have for decades been borrowing elements from the social and cultural repertoires both of their neighbours and of modern industrial society. Peter Rich writes, “The strength of Ndebele spatial models and aesthetic grammar allowed them to invest images reinterpreted from other cultures, with their own symbolic meaning. They had an affinity with the stylised art deco that was prevalent in cities such as Pretoria in the 1940s and ’50s. The changing trends in Western society, notably the American car culture of the ’50s, fashion and infatuation with images of power/electricity/jet aeroplanes, were other catalysts. ‘We see what we want to see and make it our own’, proclaims a Ndebele matriarch.”
Application of paint to earthen wall
Because of the striking designs adorning the houses, tourists drove great distances to see the Ndebele, often from as far away as Johanasburg, which was 100 miles away. According to Elizabeth Ann Schneider, the Ndebele women noticed the license plates on the cars and although they could not read them, they liked the shapes of the letters and numbers and began to paint them on their earthen walls. They mirrored the shapes of these forms to create symmetrical patterns on the front of their houses. Wavy designs known as “tire tracks” are still sometimes applied to walls and also appear on floors.
Modern “BMW” Ndebele House
‘Mural decoration is the prerogative of the woman; it denotes her unique and intimate relationship with the indlu (home) and her passive response to being exploited socially and politically,’ wrote Margaret Courtney-Clarke in Ndebele, but with the pressures of a modern era, the Ndebele women became increasingly dependent upon the automobile to find work in cities that were a good distance from their villages. This cultural shift led to the application of Ndebele motifs, which until then used the car as inspiration, to the car itself.
Many Ndebele women became well known for their craft and the most celebrated of these artists is Esther Nikwambi Mahlangu. Born in Middleburg in 1936, she was invited in 1989 to exhibit at the Pompidou Art Museum in Paris. In 1991, she was invited to paint a prototype of the new BMW 525i model. Esther’s car, eleventh in the Art Car Collection, was the first to be decorated by a woman artist and as a black woman artist from a little-known South African community to be included in a prestigious international artistic line-up of artists including Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and David Hockney made this fact all the more exceptional.
Esther Mahlangu’s Ndebele BMW
In 2008 Mahlangu was invited to paint another car—this time the new Fiat 500.
Mahlangu next to her Fiat 500
Today, calling attention to the automobile’s long relationship with the the architecture of the Ndebele, an old car, painted in this evolving tradition, joins a sign announcing the entrance to the famous mud brick village of Lesedi.
Mud brick was he principal building Northern New Mexico from the founding of the first colony in 1598 until the mid 20th century. Industrialization, mining and the lure of jobs in cities transformed what was largely agrarian society in New Mexico into a society increasingly dependent upon the automobile to travel the great distances from the isolated villages to Albuquerque and the mines in central Colorado.
From the desire to bring with them a piece of home with them from a landscape in which the people were deeply rooted, emerged the lowrider—a chapel on wheels that evoked the essence of the ancient baroque mud brick churches that were at the center of village life.
Dave’s Dream as displayed in the Smithsonian Museum’s former Road Transportation hall, with photomural of the El Santuario de Chimayo, and an assembly of trophies won by this lowrider automobile. Photo by Jeff Tinsley, Negative #: 95-3340
The altar of El Santuario de Chimayo whose color scheme and ornamentation could be seen as influential to “Dave’s Dream”
The long lines of automobiles produced in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were reminicent of the longcorrieras—adobe houses that were composed of several branches of a single family constructed through a series continuous additions as the family grew. The interiors and/or exteriors of the car were often lavishly ornamented, reminiscent of the baroque ornamentation found in the mud brick interiors.
Ruin of a corriera house in San Idelfono, New Mexico and a 1963 Impela.
Low-rider Cadillac named “Chimayo,” Chimayo, New Mexico, 1997 by Craig Varjabedian
Today, the mud brick village of Chimayo, New Mexico is considered the spiritual center of the lowrider world and nearby Española, New Mexico is considered the lowrider capital of the world. Today lowrider culture has become a global phenomena, but the ornate vehicles and over-zealous use of hydraulics that tilts the automobiles into torqued positions still recall the leaning ancient mud brick structures of northern New Mexico.
And while lowriding has become a serious artform and mud brick architecture has roots in the profound, the combination of adobe architecture and the automobile has also been poked fun at in popular culture as evidenced by the adobe car, featured in a Saturday Night Live “fake commercial“, a transcript of which appears below:
Saturday Night Live’s The Adobe Car
Spokesman: These days, everyone’s talking about the Hyundai, and the Yugo. Both nice cars, if you’ve got $3,000 or $4,000 to throw around. But, for those of us whose name doesn’t happen to be Rockefeller, finally there’s some good news – a car with a sticker price of $179. That’s right, $179. The name of the car?
Adobe. The sassy new Mexican import that’s made out of clay. German engineering and Mexican know-how helped create the first car to break the $200 barrier. At this price, you might not expect more than reliable transportation – but, brother, you get it! Extra features: like the custom contour seats, or the beverage-gripping dash. And the money you save isn’t exactly small change!
“Hey, hey, we’re Adobe!
The little car that’s made out of clay!
We’re gonna save you some money
that you can spend in some other way!
Hey, hey, we’re Adobe!
Hey, hey, we’re Adobe!
[ show Adobe driver get into a fender-bender. She casually steps out of the vehicle and uses her hands to mold her bumper back into its proper shape, in under six minutes! ]
Spokesman: Adobe. You can buy a cheaper car. But I wouldn’t recommend it!
Announcer: Not approved for street use in some states. No warranty either expressed or implied. All sales final.
Interestingly, most major automobile manufacturers actually employ clay to visualize their designs before they go into production. This art of designing cars in clay has existed since the 1920’s, just as the Industrial Revolution was beginning to influence the culture of the remote villages of Northern New Mexico and still today, most of the futuristic prototypes found at car shows are clay models crafted with multiple axis computer controlled mills that carve the car from clay based on designs created using 3D modeling software.
High Speed CNC Machine
And as sophisticated machinery is being developed to shape the automobiles of the future out of clay, cumbersome vehicles exist that move across flat terrains, which consume mud and excrete large quantities of mud brick to fuel a growing demand for adobe houses in New Mexico and beyond. Such machinery can be found at The Adobe Factory in Alcalde, New Mexico and can produce 20,000 mud bricks per day.