Last Updated on January 5, 2021 by Kim Labriola
Burnt Adobe is at home in Tucson
Tucson is said to have the most burnt adobe homes in the United States. Lucky us! Most of these homes were built between 1950 and 1970. Burnt adobe was used in many styles of homes including Ranch, Midcentury Modern, Territorial, and Spanish Revival style homes. Burnt adobe homes are easily recognizable in their natural state, although sometimes they’ll be mortar-washed, painted, or stuccoed over the years. It’s a real treat to see burnt adobe home interiors and exteriors with the adobe left natural, without an opaque paint or plaster coating.
What is burnt adobe?
If you’re new to Tucson or Southern Arizona, you may not have heard of burnt adobe before. It’s a regional material made in the northern part of Sonora, Mexico that gained popularity during the post WWII building boom. But once you’re familiar with the material, you’ll see it almost everywhere in Tucson.
Burnt adobe, which is different than mud adobe, is made of mud and clay that is formed into bricks then fired in ovens. They are much larger and thicker than red bricks and are easy to spot. The exterior of the adobe blocks have a hard shell which needs to be protected from water by using a sealant that needs to be reapplied periodically. Burnt adobe is made in the northern part of Mexico, which is one of the reasons it is such a popular material in Tucson. It isn’t used much farther north than Tucson, due the prohibitive cost of shipping.
Types of burnt adobe
There are 3 types of burnt adobe: Sasabe, Querobabi, and San Luis. The first 2 are named for the towns where the adobes are made. Most burnt adobe homes in Tucson use the Sasabe adobes, probably because the town of Sasabe is closer to Tucson than Querobabi. Sasabe adobe is more orange while the Querobabi adobe is more red, and the San Luis adobe is multicolored with hints of yellow, black, orange, red, and brown. San Luis adobe is striking in appearance, but was rarely used in Tucson.
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Burnt Adobe Builders and Architects in Tucson
Many of Tucson’s most well known midcentury builders and architects used burnt adobe in their home designs. Josias Joesler, one of Tucson’s most popular architects, was partial to using mortar washed burnt adobe. Juan Worner Baz, who was Joesler’s successor after his untimely death, also used the warm texture of burnt adobe in some of his work. Bennie Gonzales designed a noteworthy townhome community in Tucson that utilized white painted burnt adobe blocks. Tom Gist one of Tucson’s most celebrated modernist builders, used burnt adobe almost exclusively. Windsor Park, a midcentury modern community developed by J. Herbert Oxman and designed by architect David Swanson used burnt adobe in many of their homes. The Lusk Corporation used burnt adobe in most of their midcentury communities in Tucson, Indian Ridge is one of Lusk’s most celebrated Tucson neighborhoods. Countless other midcentury architects and builders also used the popular regional material.
Pros and Cons of Burnt Adobe
- Warm, rustic aesthetic look of burnt adobe is appealing to many
- Thicker mass allows for less heat transfer than some other types of older materials like red brick
- More fire resistant than some other types of construction
- Natural elements such as rain or water can erode adobe easily
- Maintaining burnt adobe with a special sealer is needed periodically