El Visonario: A remembrance of Alfred von Bachmayr
Alfred von Bachmayr was nothing if not a visionary.
I believe it was 1995 when I met him at the Casas de Escudero, a Habitat for Humanity project just west of Camino Alire on West Alameda. I had a vested interest in the housing there because one of my employees and his family were the likely recipients of a residence. A year or so previous to my involvement, my son, Jess, had contributed the time, effort and brain damage to see to it that the family were legalized and able to participate in the program without any shadows.
Memory fades, but I believe Alfred contacted me because of my connection with Cornerstones, the organization that was restoring the historic adobe churches in New Mexico. He was looking to take adobe into the 20th century, on the cusp of the 21st, by experimenting with compressed earthen blocks (CEB).
To this end, through Habitat, he purchased a CEB machine. The principle of the technology is that by taking the elegance of earth building, modifying it to decrease the prodigious amount of labor required for adobe construction, the most common building material on the planet might become an affordable housing solution. The machine intakes soil, slightly damp, and extrudes blocks that can be laid directly into the wall. I totally subscribed to the idea, and we went forth to build five homes. My employee and family are still happily residing in one of them.
I was enthused enough by Alfred's idea that I explored the technology by buying two machines, not for the altruistic purposes that he was committed to, but to see if I could make them work in the for-profit world and, conceivably, take the concept to scale. In a word, I built two "for profit" homes that barely broke even, and when I took the technology to a massive housing program in Nigeria, it went way south. Check out Nigeria, and, more to the point, Osama
After the Casas project, Alfred and I connected casually off and on for many years. When he came up the with idea of using old pallets in a creative way for roof trusses in Cd. JurŠez, Mexico, I looked a bit doubtful, I'm sure. But, when he came to me with "a little adobe project" in Agua Fria Village, he hooked me again. Why not, he asked, take this little ruin and make it into something? The ruin was an old, two-room house overlooking the dry Santa Fe riverbed, with a failed roof, no footings and seemingly hopeless in its derelict state. We converted it, for the Esperanza Shelter, into a wonderful, warm space for kids from battered families.
Success cannot be solely judged on whether an idea or life's work is practical on a commercial basis, nor in it's potential to be taken to scale. Where I failed and Alfred succeeded is that he managed to house many, many people - and did it in the personal, exuberant manner that was his goal, his gift and his legacy.