Here’s the fascinating inside story of how they built Frank Loyd Wright’s famed School of Architecture at Taliesin West. Desert concrete or dry-pack is more sustainable than typical concrete because it uses free local sand and stone, no gravel and very little water. Large stones reduce use of cement.
“There was a query on the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy web site a while back about how the desert concrete at Taliesin West was constructed. The process is not all that complicated. We were working at a pretty primitive and labor intensive level. There was ample labor available, a scarcity of money, one little old concrete mixer, lots of sand and stone, and a great deal of talent and enthusiasm. We loved stripping the form work the next day to admire our artistry. We were, after all, working in the dark and the proof of the pudding was in the newly exposed wall. The secret, if indeed named such, was the mix of what is termed concrete. We used what really should be called dry-pack, a mixture of sand from the washes below Taliesin and cement. There was no aggregate; just sand, cement, and very little water. At my physical peak I could take a 5 yard dump truck down to the wash below Taliesin and fill it to the brim with sand on a 1/2/3/4 count without missing a beat. Well almost never.
The stone, like the sand, was free, also but very labor intensive to collect the best specimens. Our stone collecting tools were equally primitive, consisting of a Jeep, a small flatbed trailer and a 6 foot wrecking bar, lots of muscle, and above all, discriminating taste. We took our stone collecting very seriously. Our next wall was to be the best looking wall at the camp. We looked for size, color flatness and shape. We also probably ventured beyond the confines of the reservation in our stone collecting ventures, but in those days there was nothing around for miles.”