Back to building basics

Vista Grande teens working on adobe certification

By Jesse Moya
jmoya@taosnews.com
Posted 5/23/19

In an effort to preserve an ancient building technique, Vista Grande High School is working toward adobe certifications for students interested in learning the original …

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Back to building basics

Vista Grande teens working on adobe certification

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In an effort to preserve an ancient building technique, Vista Grande High School is working toward adobe certifications for students interested in learning the original Southwest building style.

Shop teacher Keaton Karvas is taking a different approach to learning at Vista Grande and is engaging his students into building history. Students in his class are learning the finer points of adobe block building and are getting hands-on experience in the field of adobe construction. Karvas hopes they'll soon be earning their certifications in adobe building through the Earthbuilders Guild.

"So far we have used compressed earth blocks, done adobe plastering and are currently building an addition to our structure that will be our metal shop," Karvas said.

The adobe class at Vista Grande includes classroom work on the history of building with the mud, as well as field applications of the construction. Students read styles and technique from textbooks and then take the practice outside to get their hands dirty.

"I like just getting to be outside and working with earth," said junior Felix Archuleta. "[Building by hand] just makes me feel more connected and I like the smell, too."

Archuleta said he hopes to take his learned skills and help reconnect with building as his family has done for some time.

Members of the Earthbuilders Guild are supervising Karvas and his students, ensuring that the students are building as close to construction codes as possible, as well as giving pointers in adobe work when needed. Their expertise comes in handy when students overlook details like brick spacing or placement.

"Nobody is doing this at the high school level in this whole country," said Quinton Wilson from the guild. "Shop classes are diminishing, but no one is doing adobe work as far as I know."

Adobe consists of water, straw and sand mixed together to create firm bricks to build structures with. People in the Southwest and around the world have been using the adobe method for countless generations and Karvas is looking at bringing the art back to the masses in Taos.

Students are currently working outside the wood shop at Vista Grande to build an L-shaped adobe wall to hone their skills with the masonry. Karvas is teaching them how to make blocks, fashion the mortar and stack the bricks. The process takes time and dry weather in order to cure the bricks properly to their desired strength. During their setting time, bricks must lay flat and dry so they can be added to a wall or frame.

In order for the students to be adobe certified, they must pass a test, for which Wilson is helping them study. Students must construct their own wall in a matter of hours and it must include a window or a door. At the moment, students are just getting some practice with building, according to Wilson, and will be able to take the test in September.

The Earthbuilders Guild is an organization focused on building with natural materials made of earth. Adobe is a main focus, as it has been the primary building material in the Southwest, and many other parts of the world, for centuries. If students pass their test sometime in September, they will be certified to build adobe structures up to modern building codes.

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