Natural Finishes Workshop at Proyecto San Isidro



 Top Above: One of several new building projects underway at Proyecto San Isidro featuring a wonderfully crafted “mashup” of Cob, Straw Bale, Traditional Adobe, and Pajareque (including bottles) construction techniques. Natural building has it all: minimal environmental impact, lowered construction cost, long lasting durability, beauty, and comfort (earthen buildings are well known by Mexicans as being “fresco” (cooler in hot weather than contemporary cement based construction). So what’s not to love???

Bottom Above: Agave and fields of Rancho El Pardo, home of the inspired San Isidro project.


I’m happy to report that the movement to pursue sustainable living practices is gaining ground in Mexico. This last week (October 2014) I attended a natural finishes workshop at the inspired Proyecto San Isidro at Rancho El Pardo  in Central Mexico, along with more than twenty others from all around the country and representing a terrific variety of Mexican social strata. The workshop itself was extremely well organized and covered topics from natural plasters ( primarily variations on mixes of builder’s lime, earth, sand, straw, and cow poo) to the making of paint, applying frescos (natural pigments painted directly into fresh lime plaster), waterproof tadelakt (a burnished lime surface used for showers, sinks, and other applications where waterproof finish is needed), and earthen floors.

One thing quite amazing to experience and be part of is the growing web of connections in the Canadian, U.S., and Mexican natural building movements. Much of it originated with Llanto Evans, who single handedly saved cob construction techniques which had been a standard of construction in the British Isles for centuries, but which had gone virtually extinct during the 1900’s. Lanto, and his wife Linda breathed new life into this wonderful building art when they transported the knowledge back to their home in Oregon in the 1980’s, and began experimenting with more sculptural use of the materials than had been used previously in the U.K. It was the combination of practicality and the new artistic expression that Lanto & Linda brought to it, that captured imaginations, and propelled the medium to new life. Lanto later introduced Cob to the Las Cañadas sustainable community in Vera Cruz state of Mexico, as well as builder Pat Hennebery of British Columbia and many others in the Pacific Northwest, and a cross pollination of builders migrating between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico has been evolving ever since.

Like much of the other explosion in cross cultural mashups happening in recent years, the new generation of natural builders are combining cob with other techniques such as straw bale, super adobe, compressed earth block, rammed earth, traditional adobe and others. This all seems to fit the new generation of Mexicans well as they push to cast off their machismo heritage and find identity more relevant to new global realities we’re all grappling with. And no where I know of can this cross pollination of cultural and generational building styles be found in more beautiful expression than at Proyecto San Isidro.

Following are photo’s and descriptions of the various techniques and material mixes taught at the workshop:


above: Proyecto San Isidro Director & Natural building Architect Alejandra Caballo demonstrating a sample of hardened cob mixes.




above: Guest instructor and fresco muralist Pedro at pigment making demonstration (pigments later used in a separate paint making class).

above: Various naturally occurring mineral elements used for making paint pigments.




above: Participants examining earthen floor samples.




above: Cob, Straw Bale, & Pajareque composting toilet room under construction.




above Resident Maestro (master builder & teacher) Guero demonstrating the application of fermented cow dung exterior finish coat.  



above: Cob serpent atop Pajareque wall

Unusual  example of a vaulted boveda ceiling constrcuted with traditional adobe blocks rather than fired brick.




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