FIRST EARTH | Uncompromising Ecological Architecture

Carole Crews

My name is Carole Crews, and I've lived in Taos, NM most of my life. We're sitting here in this adobe dome that I started building about 14 years ago now, in my so-called spare time. And I had a 1-year-old baby at the time, and often she would come out here with me -- well, where else could she go? So every time I came, she was with. And she found it all sort of interesting, I think. I would set her up in a little high chair, and she could watch me. I sometimes carried her in a backpack. I mixed mud and laid bricks and built this first room here, which is a 16-foot diameter round room.

And after the walls were up, my friend Carolee Pelos, who is no longer with us, she organized a dome-building workshop, and so she had 20 people come over for a weekend. And so, we started building the dome part of this room. During the workshop, though, we only got up about two feet up on the dome, because you could only go so far at a time. You have to do one ring at a time. It has to be finished before you can start the next ring. So it went kind of slowly. [Laughs]. But it was really fun. And people plastered the exterior of the building at the same time. Yeah, it was great.

And then, after that was over, I came out on my own, or usually I brought a friend or two with me, cause it's really hard to do on your own, because you have to get those little bricks up to the scaffolding, and all that. So it really is helpful to have two or three people. And especially when it got toward the center, because it took double scaffolding to get up there that high. And so, you'd be up high, and have somebody hand you things. That's the best way. And you have to use a rubber mallet to tap each brick into place. And we used little pebbles behind the bricks, and between them, so that it'll stay in exactly the right place. And you have, what I used, is a barrel full of rocks in the center of the room, with a pole sticking up, and it was hinged, so that the hinged piece of wood would tell you exactly where the next brick should go, and the right angle, and everything. So that was fun.

It was just so exciting to see the dome just come in and hang there in space, all by itself. It's amazing! [Laughs]. And then, the acoustics of it are a trip! Because, if you stand in the middle, you can hear yourself so well. And in fact, when I was plastering it, I kind of taught myself how to do throat-singing. Because you were right there next to the wall, you know? And your voice, you could hear it from behind you. And I don't know, it was just very mysterious. Si tried to do this double voice thing. I kind of felt like I was doing it, I'm not sure. But one time, we had a voice workshop in here. And to have 10 people sitting around in the circle, making sounds and toning with each other, it was amazing, because it was like a whole body of voice was created in the middle of the room, and it seemed almost palpable, you could walk into it. It's a great place to play drums, or sing. We've had several little musical sessions up here, it's always fun.

Well, I had built one house already, or most of a house. It had started out as an adobe horse stables.that belonged to a good friend of ours, when I was married. And my husband and I worked on that together, and transformed it into a solar house. But it was never ours, it was like a lease kind of agreement. And so we stayed there for 6 years, and then we moved up to Taos -- it had been in Tesouki. And so we bought an old house in town.

But then, I could see that this marriage was coming to an end, and I just wanted some project of my own. And the first house we built, it had been very linear in its structure, very straight edges, a big south room, and that was great for the heat, and all. But I just wanted to make something round, just for the fun of it, and my friend Carolee was fascinated with domes, and wanted to organize this whole workshop thing, where everybody would help each other build their domes. And so mine was the first project. And it turned out to be the only project, because nobody else ever did it again! I don't know why not. But anyway, that's what got me started, was Carolee's influence, to go ahead and start making domes, so that everybody could have a little practice. [Laughs].

It was a great project to get me out of town while things were difficult at home, So I had this piece of land, and I didn't really know if I could get to keep my house in town. For years I didn't know. It went on in limbo for at least a decade, not knowing whether I was going to get to keep it or lose it. So all those years, I would come out here, and work on this project.

It was very supportive in the psychological way, during that time, because I think when you build something, you kind of rebuild yourself, on the way. It gives you strength to realize that you can, that you really can put a roof over your head! [Laughs]. And take care of ourself in that basic way. And it was very important to me during those years.

And this is such a feminine space, being such a circular, and having all these arched windows and doors. It just feels like a sacred space to me, this room.

And so I made this mural on the occasion of my little daughter's 18th birthday, while she was off taking a trip in Europe. And I really missed her, and so I thought I would mark the day by making this mural. [Laughs]. And yeah, it was really fun. It was during a workshop, and we had done the walls, a fresh coat of clay on the walls. We did a fresh coat on the ceiling, too, and then I just went over that with the keisine washes. And I remember, it took me longer than I thought it would. I mean, why would I think it would go quickly? But in fact, it took only about a day, and I just kept at it.

And I remember all the workshop participants were hungry, and I didn't want to stop. And I just had them all go to town, I gave them some money for pizzas, and sent them all to town, [laughs], and stayed working on it all evening, and then got on the next day and finished it.