A Pre-PDF Adobe Workshop

I was fortunate to be able to attend a workshop focused on the building blocks of the structures we are studying and surveying in the Barrio Viejo of Tucson. Those literal building blocks are adobe mud-bricks. The workshop was led by Jim Garrison, the former State Historic Preservation Officer for Arizona, and Reggie McKay, who owns an adobe rehabilitation and construction company called Adobe Technology. Although I have worked in the field of earthen architecture conservation, I always learn something new. The workshop was comprised of a classroom presentation and a practical session making adobe bricks. The workshop really had me thinking as to why the “Santa Fe” or pueblo revival style has been mimicked across the entire Southwest in cookie cutter suburbia housing developments, even in Tucson. This taco-deco style strikes me as strange, because we have our own vernacular and regional architecture here in southern Arizona, known as the Sonoran Row House tradition.  It makes more sense when one realizes how much Santa Fe and its ‘style’ is even internationally celebrated and copied, as the New Mexican capital has largely remained architecturally preserved. In contrast, city leaders of Tucson, in perhaps one of the greatest blunders in state history, tore out the historic core of the Barrio Viejo in the late 1960s under the guise of “Urban Renewal,” largely ignoring the fact that the area was the most densely populated place in the entire state at the time. It was as if Santa Fe received later Anglo newcomers who appreciated and sought to honor Santa Fe’s architectural flavor, while Tucson never overcame later Anglo arrivals’ “mudbox slum” perspective. That was an incredible shame, and Urban Renewal was a sham. Tucson lost nearly two-thirds of its historic Barrio quarter, and we are left with the one third that we are seeking National Historic Landmark (NHL) status for.  This last physical example is what makes Tucson architecturally unique, and in part promotes a sense of place. Recently Tucson was honored internationally with the UNESCO World City of Gastronomy designation, so I think the timing is very appropriate that we also give national recognition via NHL status to this amazing neighborhood in a amazing Southwestern American city.

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