DBG's Webster Auditorium

The Sustainability of Adobe

The Great Depression saw an adobe boom in the Phoenix area, thanks to its affordability and sustainability.

Adobe has served as an inexpensive and reliable building material for cultures across the globe for several millennia. Although ancient in origin, the use of adobe boasts thoroughly modern advantages such as renewability and energy efficiency, making brown adobe walls very green indeed.

The 1939 Webster Auditorium, a National Register-listed building on the grounds of the Desert Botanical Garden, is an example of a Phoenix-area adobe structure erected during the last great adobe boom. The period stretching across the Great Depression saw many such projects constructed. The rationale for the construction of many notable adobe buildings, including Tempe's Eisendrath House, ASU's Moeur Building, and Phoenix's Jokake Inn, was not sustainability but rather affordability or a desire to replicate widely-held perceptions of how the state once looked.

Curiously, just decades prior, Phoenicians worked tirelessly to replace the unpopular adobe structures found throughout the town with what they regarded as more respectable brick buildings. However, the ancient tradition of combining clay, straw, and sand with water to form a natural and durable construction material refused to be consigned to the ages, instead resurfacing periodically as succeeding generations recognized its many benefits. Today's environmentally-minded adobe adapters are the most recent, although likely not the last, group of desert dwellers to see the value in adobe - an ancient, albeit adaptable, architectural material once again en vogue.

edited 12/23/2019:wt



DBG's Webster Auditorium
Arizona State Historic Preservation Officer Jim Garrison discusses the Desert Botanical Garden's Webster Auditorium, a National Register-listed 1939 adobe building named for early DBG benefactor Gertrude Webster. Written by Jim Garrison and...
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