RM-3 Episode Three: Dirt

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By Dwell
In this episode of RM-3 (Raw Materials 3 Ways), we reveal how humble dirt is transformed into cult-status ceramics; shimmering, black bricks; and rammed-earth dwellings.

During the fall of 2017, architect Dan Maginn and his son were on a hike through the woods when he took another kind of fall—getting a mouthful of mud. The experience, though humbling, also got him thinking about what dirt really is, and how humans have shaped it over the centuries. Dirt, after all, formed our earliest shelters, vessels, and writing tablets.

In this episode, Dan gives dirt gets the spotlight it deserves. We head to Heath Ceramics in San Francisco to see how local clay is shaped into dinnerware, tiles, and more; learn about a special type of black brick—manganese ironspot—and its role in a historic monument; and dive into the process that forms captivating, rammed-earth buildings in the desert.

Tune in to the full episode below, and keep scrolling to see the projects we talk about on the show.

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Featured Guests

Rosalie Wild, Heath Ceramics

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Light floods Heath’s San Francisco factory, where clays and glazes are mixed according to exacting recipes developed by Edith Heath in the 1950s.

Light floods Heath’s San Francisco factory, where clays and glazes are mixed according to exacting recipes developed by Edith Heath in the 1950s.

Dual glaze tiles have varying proportions of matte and gloss finishes on each tile, creating unpredictable rhythms when they're installed. Each glazer places a stencil on the tile before spraying it with glaze to create the mesmerizing effect.

Dual glaze tiles have varying proportions of matte and gloss finishes on each tile, creating unpredictable rhythms when they're installed. Each glazer places a stencil on the tile before spraying it with glaze to create the mesmerizing effect.

Edith Heath throws a small pot. Her values of sustainability, respect for raw materials, and accessibility for all continue to drive the company.

Edith Heath throws a small pot. Her values of sustainability, respect for raw materials, and accessibility for all continue to drive the company.

Architect Tim Hickman served as the architectural liaison in the building of renowned artist Kerry James Marshall's A Monumental Journey in Des Moine, Iowa, which commemorates the 12 black lawyers who founded the National Bar Association in 1925 in direct answer to the segregated American Bar Association. The shape is inspired by African talking drums, used for communication. 

Architect Tim Hickman served as the architectural liaison in the building of renowned artist Kerry James Marshall's A Monumental Journey in Des Moine, Iowa, which commemorates the 12 black lawyers who founded the National Bar Association in 1925 in direct answer to the segregated American Bar Association. The shape is inspired by African talking drums, used for communication. 

Manganese ironspot bricks undergo a powerful, transformative process, and in the end they have a metallic sheen that changes throughout the day. 

Manganese ironspot bricks undergo a powerful, transformative process, and in the end they have a metallic sheen that changes throughout the day. 

Rick Joy, Studio Rick Joy

Rick Joy Studio's Adobe Canyon House in Patagonia, Arizona, features four solid corners of rammed earth that link the home to the landscape.

Rick Joy Studio's Adobe Canyon House in Patagonia, Arizona, features four solid corners of rammed earth that link the home to the landscape.

Steel and glass combine with rammed earth to create a home that is both connected to the landscape, and distinctive from it. "It can be really striking when the sun hits it, and there's a little glare," says Rick Joy. "It's like any body of water in the desert."

Steel and glass combine with rammed earth to create a home that is both connected to the landscape, and distinctive from it. "It can be really striking when the sun hits it, and there's a little glare," says Rick Joy. "It's like any body of water in the desert."

For Le Cabanon, a house in the Turks and Caicos islands north of the Dominican Republic, Joy took stock of the materials of the island—sand, rock and water—and created walls of brilliant white concrete.

For Le Cabanon, a house in the Turks and Caicos islands north of the Dominican Republic, Joy took stock of the materials of the island—sand, rock and water—and created walls of brilliant white concrete.

RM-3 is produced by Jenny Xie, edited by Jonna McKone, and hosted by Dan Maginn. Our theme music is by Slag Ralden. Special thanks to Rosalie Wild, Tim Hickman, and Rick Joy for being on the show; to Alex Donelson, Kevin Lee, and Ana Adlerstein; and to our sponsor Humboldt Redwood.