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This is the story of my experiences living as an ex-pat in Mexico since 2003. It's to culminate in a published book. With your help, I'll be editing, selecting a title, and cover art: a participatory project. Your comments encouraged!

Letters from Mexico

ExpatsBlog.com - Where Expats Blog

November 27, 2021

Construction in Tepoztlán:                      

Part Two

Adobe is the characteristic and distinctive building material in this region. Where I am from originally, the northeastern part of the US, most homes are made of wood. Why the difference?

First of all, the forests here are not abundant in trees for lumber. And the soil and other materials that go into making adobe are cheap and abundant. Secondly, the heavy rainy season might induce mold formation more easily in wooden structures. And third, building with adobe became customary. A wooden house in the midst of adobe, stone, brick, and cinder block ones would look odd, and this is not acceptable.

Note that this article is a continuation from Part One.

Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Abode bricks for sale at a local manufacturing site. The cost listed in USD is fifty cents per brick. Photo by author


Building with mud bricks, adobe, has been around for 10,000 years. Materials are readily available on site, and easily assembled, although the mixing process and brick manufacture are labor intensive.

Sand, and soil with a minimal clay percentage are used, along with straw to help bind it together. Other components may be added.

In the building of a school in Cuernavaca, nearby where I live, the children participated in making the mix, pouring bricks, and placing them. This was a biodynamic herb farm that was the site of a summer day camp for Waldorf School students. They added the juice of the nopal cactus to the mix for better binding.

I visited a local production facility and asked if they used the nopal.

"No, we use ear wax collected from cows," was the reply.

Left: The nopal cactus has large pear-shaped leaves with spines in a branching structure. Top right: A pile of powdery dried horse manure with a shovel on it. Foreground--Finished bricks on end lined in rows to dry. Bottom right: A pile of wet soil half covered with a yellow tarp. Propped up wheel barrow in foreground.

Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Left: nopal cactus whose juice is used as a binding agent. Right top: dried horse manure. Right bottom: soil mixture. Photo by author


Now that we've seen the materials that compose adobe bricks, let's take a look at a construction in progress.

Top left: Yellowish adobe bricks stacked high in foreground, with a wall and wooden scaffolding in background. Top Right: A closer view of the adobe brick wall. Bottom left: Window with an arch framed in regular red bricks. Bottom right: Another window framed in brick shaped like an eye.

Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. Top left: Bricks are piled near the building.  Top right: A closer look at a wall and its wood scaffolding. Bottom : Windows framed in brick. Photo by author

Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. A Waldorf School summer day camp. Top: constructing an adobe oven. Bottom: A small adobe schoolhouse is going up. Photo by author

Completed Buildings

Some buildings incorporate adobe with other materials in creative and beautiful ways. Here is a Huichol temple, a round structure of adobe bricks with a thatched roof and a base of stone and mortar. It is used by the Sacred Fire Community in Tepoztlán.

Round structure of adobe brick and with a thatched roof. The roof has a triangular opening, and the building has door openings, but no doors. The base is of stone and mortar and it has a walkway leading up to it.

Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico. This is the Tuki, a round ceremonial space of adobe brick and thatched roof. Photo by author

The slideshow below shows some completed adobe walls and houses in my neighborhood. Notice how the use of other materials complements the adobe bricks. Between the rows of bricks, embedded in the mortar, are small, equally spaced stones. Large stones at the base act as an offset to the regular rows of adobe bricks. One slide has blue stained stones. Regular red bricks often outline windows. In the third slide, the sign featuring "plomero" is for a plumber. I like the flat red or blue painted bottom areas. The last three slides have beautiful bougainvillea flowers overhanging the wall.

Additional Facts About Adobe

Here is more information about adobe that I obtained from this site.

In conclusion, when designed correctly, adobe is an affordable, environmentally friendly, and durable building material. Even in places where a structure made entirely of adobe wouldn’t be ideal, it can be used in conjunction with other natural materials that make it stronger. Adobe is also very approachable to novice builders. Because of its simplicity and safety, anyone can participate in the construction process. Adobe and earthen building have also been around for most of human history, and its proven track record as a high quality and ecologically friendly method of building are finally being recognized once again as a legitimate form of construction in modern applications. The revival of adobe has come at a time when it’s ecological advantages, affordability, and it’s timeless beauty are all important to modern development. As more people continue to rediscover this building technique they are adapting it to their specific ecology; even advances in technology have improved the process.