Adobe has been used as a universal building material for at least 5000 years. Spanish explorers and missionaries introduced adobe to America during the 16th century. From the 1600s to 1800s, adobe was widely used throughout Texas as an inexpensive and readily available material, with most components found in the natural environment. Although the composition of adobe varies, the ingredients normally include water, soil, sand, gravel, and an organic binder such as straw or grass. Traditionally, adobe bricks are handmade using wooden molds and left to harden in the sun.
The shift towards green building practices has inspired new technologies including onsite manufacturing equipment to make the adobe construction process more feasible. This project explores the evolution of adobe through a historical examination of adobe homes and structures in San Antonio and investigates the resurgence of adobe as an environmentally sustainable building material. Through a partnership with the MujerArtes Studio, a newly constructed adobe commercial building located in the Westside of San Antonio, we examine the use of creative placemaking in modern adobe construction.
For our project, we researched the history of adobe construction in San Antonio using a variety of techniques. For archival research, we utilized the Portal to Texas History, which Mujeresprovided sources to map the geographic locations of adobe structures in San Antonio. The scope of our project centered on the MujerArtes Studio as a modern example of environmental stewardship and sustainability. Using the San Antonio Express-News database we found newspaper articles on the construction and public reception of the MujerArtes Studio.
We also researched the environmental sustainability of earthen building practices using the Sustainability and Reference Center and Academic Search Complete databases. Through the course of the semester, we were able to work with three organizations in San Antonio that gave us additional resources examining the history of adobe in Texas. These partners included: Graciela Sanchez, Director of the Esperanza Center, Lynn Yakubik, Interpretive Manager of the Institute of Texan Cultures, and Emiliano ‘Nano’ Calderon, Site Educator of Casa Navarro State Historic Site. At Casa Navarro, we were able to make miniature adobe bricks during a hands-on workshop facilitated by ‘Nano’ Calderon. This workshop provided us with a hands-on learning experience on how to create adobe. Photos from the workshop can be seen in the Project Artifacts section.
This section still needs to be added but will consist of a summarization of the Story Map (link included below)
Our primary partner and contact were Graciela Sanchez, the Director of the Esperanza Center. The MujerArtes Studio, the workshop for the Women’s Clay Cooperative, is an adobe building that was constructed using compressed earth blocks, a type of pressurized adobe. The dimensions of the blocks are 14 inches deep, ten inches wide and four inches tall. During construction, the bricks were coated with a white plaster made of lime, sand, and cactus juice as a finisher to make the adobe more water and weather resistant. The MujerArtes Studio was the first commercial building permitted for adobe construction in San Antonio in over 100 years. The studio is the perfect blend of ancestral techniques and modern practices, featuring 13-foot-high adobe walls with recycled glass bottles embedded into murals that adorn the exterior and interior of the building. The artists that make up the Women’s Clay Cooperative crafted hundreds of handmade tiles that are integrated throughout the studio. The building contains a wide front porch, a kiln room, a small kitchen, and a restroom, along with large front doors and windows for air circulation. The studio has an earthen floor, which is composed of a mixture of dirt, straw, and clay varnished with a sealant consisting of linseed oil and beeswax. Earthen floors are inexpensive, have a low carbon footprint, and have a spongy feel, making them a comfortable alternative to wood or tile flooring. The MujerArtes Studio was designed to pay tribute to the indigenous roots of the community residents. An ornate tile mural of Chalchiuhtlicue, the Aztec goddess of running water, springs, rivers, lakes, and seas sits atop the water fountain on the exterior of the building. The history and culture of the Westside are embedded and preserved within the walls of the studio.
The MujerArtes Studio was awarded an SA Tomorrow Sustainability Award for promoting sustainability through environmental engagement. Through our partnership with the Esperanza Center, we employed shared authority. Using findings from our research, we created a story map about the history of adobe in San Antonio. We are also creating a series of informational mini-zines centered on the MujerArtes Studio and adobe construction techniques. Once our project components are complete we will be giving all our materials to the Esperanza Center for their use and distribution.
The process of creative placemaking involves the collaboration of artists and community members working together to build public spaces through the integration of arts and culture. Creative placemaking is greatly beneficial to community development through the use of inclusive planning, economic opportunities, and providing a sense of identity for the community. The MujerArtes Studio is an example of creative placemaking. Through the Women’s Clay Cooperative, the community can connect to their culture through artwork exhibited in the MuJerArtes Studio. In addition, the artwork created by the Cooperative is economically beneficial to the artists and the community. The Esperanza Center hosts annual art exhibitions and fundraisers to raise money that is fed back into the community through public events and performances.
Our goal throughout this process is to promote environmental building practices and the utilization of creative placemaking as a way to activate public spaces and build equitable communities. Our target audience for this project is the community of San Antonio. Through the distribution of the informational mini-zines and planned adobe workshops, we hope to reach many different segments of the community.
This is phase one of a multi-phase project. During our next phase, we will do further research into the laws governing the use of adobe as a construction material. We will continue our mini-zine series exploring different facets of the MujerArtes Studio and conduct interviews with the Mujeres who make up the Women’s Clay Cooperative. Through further research, we hope to explore environmental racism and the gentrification of adobe happening in cities around Texas. Ultimately, we would like to create an adobe exhibit to be housed at the Rinconcito de Esperanza encompassing the entirety of our research.