This publication, released in August 2005, assesses the relevance of traditional Southwestern building designs and materials for the contemporary housing needs of low-income residents of U.S.-Mexico border communities. While affordable housing is a unique challenge in these localities due to climate, geography, and lack of an advanced infrastructure, traditional Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo housing in the Southwest reflects ages-old experience in developing housing that meets these challenges.
This research focuses on identifying traditional home construction methods and materials that will maximize scarce resources, be cost-competitive, and use energy efficiently. The report contains case studies of architectural design used in traditional Southwestern housing. Pictures and diagrams illustrate centuries-old design principles for building in the desert. Methods used in erecting walls of adobe, rammed earth, and straw bales are detailed and illustrated, along with a review of foundation and roof systems. It contains results of testing the structural and thermal performance of different wall systems. Finally, the study offers prototypes of contemporary designs, based on traditional principles, for a typical affordable home. Prototypes are shown within the context of neighborhood plans that illustrate possible densities, arrangements, and public spaces. This is a useful tool for making adaptations to widely accepted construction techniques.