Sunday, February 02, 2014

Cement Block Walls

Weather: Lots of clouds but no moisture dropping out; last snow more than a month ago, 12/22/2013.

What’s still green: Juniper and other evergreens, prickly pear; leaves on German iris, yuccas, garlic, hollyhocks, winecup mallow, Saint John’s wort, vinca, coral bells, cheat grass; some rose stems green.

What’s red: Cholla, coral beardtongue leaves, some rose stems.

What’s grey or blue: Four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, pinks, golden hairy aster leaves.

What’s yellow or brown: Arborvitae.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: Cement block construction is probably the biggest contribution Los Alamos made to the area’s construction vocabulary. After the war, when the town site was being built, block duplexes were erected everywhere.

Cement block probably was used because it was available. War-time restrictions probably made wood expensive and scarce. Block exterior walls only needed framing inside.

By coincidence, the blocks were an extension of local building practices with adobe. The major new skill was the use of cement. The mortar for the houses needed to be smoother and more consistent that the rough cement acceptable for walls.

Men took their wages and upgraded their existing adobes with the same steel-framed windows. Some also built new houses of block.

Cement block walls are not as common here as they are in Santa Fé. Some are older, but most more recent.

The one that is being built now began when a back-hoe dug a trench. The block was laid in the ditch, with the straight sections built first. The curved portion where the drive leaves the road has been laid out, and the bocks anchored by mortar above and below. The men will add the vertical mortar later.

Earlier walls were built directly on the ground. Block had one important advantage over adobe. It was easier to build over an existing irrigation ditch without blocking the flow of water.

Later, blocks were used to line the ditches. Here the main ditch along the road has been reinforced and the diverted channel for the yard flows behind and under the outer boundary wall.

Blocks usually are laid so the vertical seams are offset from row to row. In Egypt, men lay them so the seams are lined up because they value the neatness of straight lines. I don’t know which men here would have done if the men overseeing work in Los Alamos hadn’t insisted on the offsets.

The hollow blocks need to be topped off. Solid cap block comes in several thicknesses and styles.

Although some walls are left untouched, most here are painted. Covering them with stucco appears to be a more recent choice, and may be copied from the house walls in Santa Fé.

Block themselves are often used as the decorative devices. One in town used solid square bocks on top.

When fretwork blocks became available, several people near the village used them. One, with the openings pointed downward, is still gray

Another, across the road has the openings pointed up. It has been painted.

Another, used a double course. He built his wall with other decorative cement forms.

While some people accept looking at bare, gray bloc, many like to improve the utilitarian. Whatever a tool becomes available is exploited by the more creative.

Photographs: Photographs taken in the area in the past several years.

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