A Sustainable Rammed Earth Home in New Mexico

Studio eM Design’s rammed-earth home in Corrales, New Mexico, updates the regional adobe archetype into a hallmark of sustainable design.

Roger and Mary Downey’s 3,200-square-foot rammed-earth home seems to float next to the forest along the Rio Grande in semirural Corrales, New Mexico. While the home’s design and materials nod to the neighboring adobe farmhouses and agricultural sheds, architect Efthimios Maniatis of Studio eM Design calls them an amalgam of "modern contemporary regionalism," governed by Roger’s strict mandate for minimalism. Within that aesthetic, Maniatis packaged eco-friendly features around the thermal properties of the rammed-earth walls. Builders make these walls by mixing dirt with ten percent Portland cement and six to ten percent water, then pouring and compacting the mud into wood forms in eight-inch "lifts." Subtly varying color and texture mark these lovely strata. "The colors change all day with the light," says the architect. He also points out the material’s tactility: "Everyone goes to the rammed earth and feels it. It’s like having a cat—you can touch it all day long."

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