written by:
June 16, 2013
Originally published in America the Beautiful
as
Earth Moves
Studio eM Design’s rammed-earth home in Corrales, New Mexico, updates the regional adobe archetype into a hallmark of sustainable design.
Exterior rammed earth home

Governed by Roger Downey's strict mandate for minimalism, architect Efthimios Maniatis was able to craft eco-friendly features around the thermal properties of the rammed-earth walls. Photo by: Kirk Gittings

1 / 5
Rammed-earth home interior.

Marrying the interior with the outdoors informed the design, as did the concept of subtraction: “If you do it with two, then you can do it with one,” Maniatis says, articulating Roger’s algebra of minimalism. Photo by: Kirk Gittings

2 / 5
Glass and cement deck.

One major directive was to “honor the tree,” referring to a particular 85-year-old cottonwood on the property. Photo by: Kirk Gittings

3 / 5

Because the night air cools the walls in summer, the home has no air-conditioning—though daily highs often rise into the mid-90s and above. Photo by: Kirk Gittings

4 / 5
Rear view of rammed-earth home.

In an architectural sleight of hand, the building—despite its massive walls—seems to hover over a hidden foundation. Photo by: Kirk Gittings

5 / 5
Exterior rammed earth home

Governed by Roger Downey's strict mandate for minimalism, architect Efthimios Maniatis was able to craft eco-friendly features around the thermal properties of the rammed-earth walls. Photo by: Kirk Gittings

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.”

Outer Space
Studio eM Design countered the harsh climate of the New Mexico desert with a passive solar design that blocks heat and sun while maximizing natural daylight. Marrying the interior with the outdoors informed the design, as did the concept of subtraction: “If you do it with two, then you can do it with one,” Maniatis says, articulating Roger’s algebra of minimalism.

Glass and cement deck.

One major directive was to “honor the tree,” referring to a particular 85-year-old cottonwood on the property. Photo by: Kirk Gittings

Dust to Dust
Another key move was a nod to traditional adobe architecture. And since the owners are “all about impermanence,” the home’s natural materials were a crucial design element. Mixed with a small percentage of Portland cement (a natural, nontoxic version), the earthen walls could someday foreseeably “melt back into the river,” says the architect.

Cottonwood Bible
Roger, who retired from the insurance business he started in 1975 and now raises racing mules, and Mary, a former Catholic nun now involved with the Albuquerque Buddhist community, gave Studio eM general design parameters of “glass, openness, simplicity.” One major directive was to “honor the tree,” referring to a particular 85-year-old cottonwood on the property.

Runoff Election
Landscape architect Judith Wong restored the acre lot to its natural state: riverside meadow. A hidden, gravity-fed, water-harvesting system of gutters and underground plumbing distributes all roof runoff to the grasses surrounding the home.

Thermal Underwear
High heat capacity in the rammed-earth walls (which are from 18- to 36-inches thick) regulates interior temperatures. In winter, the walls work with the slab to retain and radiate the sun’s heat into the home overnight, meaning the gas-fired, in-floor radiant heat is seldom used. Conversely, because the night air cools the walls in summer, the home has no air-conditioning—though daily highs often rise into the mid-90s and above. In an architectural sleight of hand, the building—despite its massive walls—seems to hover over a hidden foundation.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016