Tag Archives: construction

Home on Taos Mesa: Japan Building Influences

What are you building? friends ask. I’ll explain.

The predominant building styles here are Pueblo and Northern New Mexico Territorial, with the Earthship (rammed earth) coming up right behind. Pueblo-style is modeled after Taos Pueblo where 1,000 year old dwellings are crafted from adobe bricks and tree-trunk beams the Spanish called vigas. Between the support beams are latillas, hewn from young saplings.

When Anglo settlers arrived here, they brought with them their eastern and midwestern rural sensibilities and built what was familiar and easy — a farmhouse that took on the character of the southwest that included long, wide covered front porches to protect from the sun. The homes were plastered with mud/clay (stucco or adobe) that was readily available from the land.

As with all things, humans adapt vernacular architecture, reconfigure, borrow and integrate designs based on personal preferences and local materials. We see this in textiles, too.

In January 2021, I secured the services of a terrific builder (Patrick O’Brien, Salamander Company) to put me in the queue for spring (okay, it’s now summer and nothing has started yet — it’s Taos, where mañana means not tomorrow but sometime later). We discussed building options and decided on the more economical territorial style. Then, he recommended that we build a German-inspired Passive House and use Japanese cypress Shou Sugi Ban to sheath it.

I remembered charcoal black wood houses from spending time in rural Japanese villages, where I was amazed at the burned wood siding used for building material. I thought it was beautiful, though strange. Little did I know that two years later I would embrace this for my own house construction.

What makes Shou Sugi Ban so attractive is it’s longevity. The original Suyaki (burned) siding is insect resistant and fire retardant. It requires no maintenance for 100 years. It is sustainable and environmentally conscious. It’s natural beauty will blend into the landscape. The wind, rain, sun and snow here on the Mesa will weather it to a dark warm gray over time. And, it will bring me back to a daily reminder of Japan, a country I have fallen in love with.

In Oaxaca, no one is building with adobe anymore. Concrete block and brick sheathed with painted concrete plaster is now the more affordable norm. Porous adobe becomes home to black widow spiders, mice, birds, and crumbles over time, although it is one of the best natural insulators in the world. Modern technology has replaced traditional building materials. We install air conditioning and heating units to compensate for materials that don’t breathe.

This choice of building with shou sugi ban feels more akin to the natural world in which I find myself.

Roofing material will be weathered corrugated metal.

My house is small and simple, 1350 square feet, two bedrooms and one-bath, plus a great room to accommodate kitchen, living and dining rooms. It will face east toward Taos Mountain and west toward the Rio Grande River Gorge. We will embed radiant heat in poured concrete floors. The Passive House design is based on 15″ thick insulated exterior walls. They say there is no need for air conditioning here, and with ceiling fans, so far I have found this to be true. Construction timing will be about nine months.

I’m sorry I am not in Oaxaca just yet to write about life there and what travelers can experience. I’m missing her immensely and cannot plan to return until this project is underway.

Update: Vintage Gold Jewelry Sale and Helping a Family of Women Home Improvement Project

Just want to tell you that yesterday I sold three pairs of earrings in response to the 10k Gold Vintage Oaxaca Jewelry Sale.  Plus, we raised $785 in cash gifts! Thank you so much. This amount of money goes a long way in Oaxaca where the average daily wage is 100 pesos or about $8 USD — if there is work.

Several readers wanted to help but didn’t want to buy earrings. They suggested I start a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign. Both take a hefty commission if you don’t raise much money. And, there is an immediacy to the family’s construction and home improvement project. The rainy season is starting soon.

So, I invited people to use PayPal to send money that I will convert from dollars to pesos to give to the family.

Want to help with the Home Improvement Project?

            Any size gift is important!  Send $$ to PayPal. My Account is                            oaxacaculture@me.com or I can send you an invoice —                                    gift plus 3% PayPal fee.

The response has been wonderful, generous, amazing, and heartfelt. One woman who made a gift said, “I believe hard-working women need to be able to live their lives with windows and shoes. It is a privilege (and a right) that in some few societies women have been able to control more financial resources than in others. I live in one of those societies, but even for us this is a recent development, not reaching back more than few decades. We are all sisters. We need to remember.” Her words express the feelings of many of us.

We know there are many women and families who need help — in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and around the world. It is always important for me to remember I can’t do everything and help every one, but I can think globally and act locally. Each of us can make a difference in someone’s life.

Earthquakes Common in State of Oaxaca: Oct. 6, 2011 is a 4.2 Magnitude

My friend, Brigitte, from Oaxaca says:  “Which earthquake?”  Was it a non-event in Oaxaca City?

This morning I got a call from a friend asking about the earthquake last night in Oaxaca.  Here is a Map of the site.  The epicenter is near Tonala in the mountains about 75 miles northeast of the southern coastal city of Salina Cruz near the Chiapas border.  This is FAR from the city of Oaxaca!

Having grown up in Southern California where earthquakes are also a common occurrence, I’m always on the alert about earthquakes in Oaxaca.  Fortunately, I know that while some damage can occur with a 4.2 magnitude quake, the ones that are over 6.0 on the Richter Scale can really wreak havoc.  Most of the recent Oaxaca quakes have been in rural areas far from the historic center of Oaxaca city.  That’s not to say they don’t pose a threat to people living in humble homes built of adobe.  The rainy season also brings the risk of landslides to mountain villages, which is what happened last year.

6 foot deep foundations for houses

Those of us who live in and visit Oaxaca often know that this is  earth’s way of taking a breath, letting it out, sighing, and realigning.  The small quakes are good —  the shift and readjustment of life on earth.

Sturdy construction prevents earthquake damage.  Six foot foundations are filled with large boulders reinforced with concrete.

Lots of rebar is used to provide a solid footing for bricks, adobe or concrete blocks — common construction materials.  The Zapotecs really know how to build to last multiple generations!

Solid construction techniques

Here you can see the footings being prepared for house construction — a safeguard against strong earthquakes!