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12 students, 11 days, 17,000 pounds of bricks, and one adobe house


AdobeHouseAre you interested in learning how to build a home using only natural materials? In the fall of 2013, twelve students from the MUM Sustainable Living department did just that. They built a 14×14 foot adobe home in Texas only using only locally sourced or created materials.

Under the guidance of Mark Stimson, MUM’s Sustainable Living Workshop Director, the students started the preparation of building the adobe home on campus, here in Fairfield Iowa. First, they had to create a plan, estimate the amount of materials needed, and prepare some of the building materials. For the post-and-beam frame, they harvested and trimmed dead spruce trees on campus. They also learned some metalwork in order to make machetes, which they later used to harvest river cane in Texas for the thatched roof. They even prepared and canned the food they needed for their eleven-day trip.

Their eco-consciousness didn’t stop there. To get to the area north of the Big Bend National Park, the group took the SL department bus, which had been converted to use renewable biodiesel fuel by students and staff member Steve Fugate.

Once on site, 80 miles from civilization and on a road so rugged ordinary cars cannot drive on it, the students got to work. They learned to sift the soil used for the bricks, moisten it with water, and then used forms to create the bricks.


Making the bricks.

As their skills improved, they were able to make each brick in less than a minute. Then the 850 bricks — all 17,000 lbs. of them — had to be carried up a long hill. Finally, they created the waterproof thatched rood by harvesting local giant river cane (Arundo donax) with the machetes they’d made.


Just a fraction of bricks they made.








Building the adobe home was a lot a work, but completing that work comes a great sense of accomplishment. “It was a transformative experience,” Mr. Stimson said. “They’ve never seen anything like this desert, with its vast scale. The heights and distances reset your perspective on things.”

“The students were confronted with many challenges in this remote desert region,” said Stimson, “but in the process they learned a lot about teamwork, leadership, self-sufficiency, and how to be flexible in the changing conditions they encountered.”


Harvesting the river cane.


Harvesting the river cane.

Sustainable Living Co-director Lonnie Gamble says, “We’re learning how to use local natural materials….More broadly, we’re also learning about how we can work with Nature, how we can connect with Nature….At MUM, we also have an inner connection with Nature through Transcendental Meditation.”

In addition to learning practical construction skills, the students also had the opportunity to experience an extraordinary landscape that includes deep vertical canyons, distant mountains, and rock-outcroppings dating back 500 million years, fossils, petrified wood, and a hot spring on the Rio Grande River.


The finished adobe house will be used as a bunkhouse and field research station.

MUM’s block system — one full-time course per month — makes it easy for students to undertake intense projects like this, along with internships and other classes that involve travel.

Learn more about this great project, and other tiny home projects in the University Report, page 13.

All photos were taken by Sandy Stimson.

Annalisa Fredrickson

Annalisa Fredrickson graduated from MUM with a BFA in Graphic Design and a minor in Business. She is a writer, social media and marketing consultant, health coach and yoga teacher. She loves to travel, create recipes and be in nature.

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