The Dome by Carole Crews

Carole Crews, is an artist, author, natural builder, and plaster guru near Taos, New Mexico. She has worked with mud and finishes for earthen buildings professionally for 25+ years. She is also the creator of this incredible earthen building. The Dome is a work of art. Never before have I seen a building quite like this – it’s magic.

The Dome is 16 feet in diameter and roughly 550 square feet. All made of adobe and cob. Carole started the project back in 1992, working sporadically over the years. The adobe bricks were laid one by one, cut to specific shapes and leveled with pea stones and adobe mortar or cob forming the adobe dome. Over time extra space was added including a kitchen, bedroom, and a outdoor space. The outdoor space, which is around 200 square feet, was originally meant to be room for her daughters, but in the end was left open-air. What a nice place to hang out and take in the view of Taos Mountain.

The dome is totally off-grid. It’s electricity is generated from solar photovoltaic panels, the rain water is collected in a below ground cistern. Heating is passive solar with wood and propane back-up.

The ceiling is a spectrum of color spiraling out from the center. The roof, or green dome, is covered in a Metacrylic roof coating system with a layer of non-woven fiber between the first two of the four painted-on layers. Over the years The Dome has transformed in color and shape as Carole tests the latest exterior plaster experiments. She has become well known for her work with clay paints or alis. Working with Carole is like working with a chef in the kitchen. She’s constantly whipping up different recipes for finishes. It seems like Carole can prescribe a mixture for any circumstance.

I asked her a few questions about her experience building The Dome…

What would you say about earthen plasters and exteriors?

Really pay attention to the weather before you build. Being aware of solar gain is not enough. It’s better to avoid earthen plasters on the side that receives a lot of weather, or plant trees, build a porch or outbuilding to protect the bldg. Make the earth plaster thick on the exterior with a tough formula that doesn’t crack. On the side that takes the worst beating, use lime or coat the earth plaster with linseed oil and have wide roof overhangs. Try to find a site that’s somewhat protected or take a tip from Pueblo cultures and build in clusters.

What, if anything, do you wish you had done differently ?

I would have planned it better for the prevailing weather and spent more time on the site during the design phase before breaking ground. I would not have left a clay surface on the dome for so long, either, because I had to repair it many times before I gave up and bought the acrylic product, although linseed oil almost worked. I would have paid more attention to the outdoor spaces created by the building from the start and saved up for really good windows and doors.

How has building The Dome transformed your life?

I started it at the end of a difficult marriage and building it was a way of rebuilding myself, and made me stronger and more confident. It takes an incredible amount of perseverance and hard work, and I sometimes wonder what I might have done with that energy instead. Because I’ve made my living working on other people’s houses, it has at times seemed like too much hard work and I’m ready to play more now, or at least be done with so much physical effort.

Lately, Carole has done just that. She has been focusing on writing a book. Sharing her wealth of knowledge of what seems to be a lost art. The book should be available with in the next couple of years.