Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Adobe Abode

A show of some of my photographs is opening this weekend at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Abilene, TX.

The photographs are about an adobe house near Presidio, TX, that was built by the Adobe Alliance and Simone Swan in 1998. The house belongs to Simone, and in the fall of 2007, my partner and I visited Simone and photographed the house. We were spending a couple of weeks in Marfa, TX, and our visit to the Swan house was a side trip. It was a very special evening: we went to Ojinaga, Mexico, across the border for dinner, and this was my first visit to Mexico. Then we slept in the domed out-building, where moonlight streamed in through the tiny skylights in the adobe dome roof. The next morning I got up and photographed the house at daybreak.

Simone's house is different from most of the other adobe houses in the area, in that its roof is also adobe. There are vaulted roofs and one domed roof. Simone learned the technique of adobe vaulting from the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, who wrote Architecture for the Poor. His idea was that if the poor folks of Egypt could built their houses entirely of mud, rather than having to buy wood and other materials for the roofs, they could be houses very affordably. The Adobe Alliance has taken the same approach.

Simone's house is also entirely off the grid, powered by solar panels and a windmill. Water comes from an underground well.

The vaults and domes are very beautiful. When we first arrived on Halloween night, the house and its outbuildings were bathed in the rosy glow of the setting desert sun. I photographed Simone beside her house that late afternoon.

The next morning I photographed the view from the roof, across the border, where I could see the lights of Ojinaga twinkling right before sunrise.

In two weeks I am going to travel to the Swan House again for an Adobe Alliance workshop. I am going to document the raising of an adobe vault and talk to members of the Adobe Alliance about their work, in order to write an illustrated article for Cite magazine in Houston.

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