Sustainable Building – Desert

Ten thousand years ago, humans were living in the desert.  They were nomads, sleeping under the stars or in simple tents, living lightly on the land.  They were herders who roamed, but with the evolution of agriculture, portable shelters became permanent ones.  Thick earthen walls buffered the heat and collected cooling breezes in the summer, and collected the sun’s heat in the winter.  They did not have air-conditioning.  Properly designed roofs provided the needed shade.  The designs were organic and rooted in place.  They used what was around, including mud, straw, plaster, and limestone, making a frugal and elegant use of local building materials.  The most important building rules are those dictated by the earth.  Although humans now spend over 80% of their time indoors, if we wish to exist in harmony with our environment, we must do by choice what the ancients did by necessity.

Building materials used for desert play an important role in keeping interior temperatures stable.  Overall, deserts are dry, although the humidity can vary widely in a year.  Deserts are places of extreme aridness and deep silence, marked by periodic rain and dust storms.  They can be at high altitude like the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, or Northern Arizona and New Mexico, or low like the Anza-Borrego Desert in California.  There are even coastal deserts, like the shoreline of Baja California.  It is possible to have temperatures variances of fifty degrees in a given day.  The lack of humidity allows the sun to heat the earth quickly, but the dry air releases the heat at night.  Indigenous materials such as earth, and native stones and woods, can be developed into well-insulated spaces.  In Morocco, Tunisia, Southern Spain, and Texas, limestone is a common geological element, making great floors and walls.  Northern Arizona and New Mexico, and Southern Colorado and Utah, have an abundance of native sandstone.  Another common building material is adobe,


When evening approaches, desert colors change from white to sulfuric yellow, then crimson and deep purple.  They offer long vistas, timeless landscapes, warm days and cold nights.