For all the qualities that make adobe an ideal building material for the Chihuahuan Desert—its high thermal mass, low embodied carbon, and deep local history—it can be quite high maintenance. The owners of a modern adobe house designed by the architecture firm Rael San Fratello on the northwest fringe of Marfa, Texas, where the town dissolves into the desert, became more than a little nettled by the frequency at which they had to replace the plaster that kept their walls from dissolving in the rain.
When they commissioned Tucson, Arizona–based Dust Studio to design an addition, they requested a more robust material that would still be sympathetic to the local architectural idiom. They also wanted the addition to be bright and airy in the interior, in contrast to the dark enclosure of the main house. And, perhaps most importantly, they asked that the new building complement and support the indoor-outdoor living style promoted by the existing residence’s large dining patio and Piet Oudolf–like wild mesquite and sotol garden that seems an extension of the surrounding desert. As Dust co-founders Cade Manning Hayes and Jesus Robles quipped, “The driving concept of the design was ‘Don’t fuck it up!’”