Adobe, a building material of sun-baked clay, usually mixed with straw or an asphalt solution as a binder. It may be molded into bricks or formed directly into thick walls. Adobe (from a Spanish word meaning “to plaster”) also means structures of this material, especially those in Latin America and the southwestern United States.
Adobe buildings have long been used by Indians in hot, relatively arid regions. They remain fairly cool and, if well cared for, last indefinitely. Adobe using straw as a binder must be protected from moisture to prevent it from disintegrating; after a rain any cracks that develop must be repaired at once. Modern adobe, which uses an asphalt solution instead of straw as the binder, does not have this problem.
Adobe houses in the southwestern United States are left the natural off-white color of the dried clay. In Mexico and Central America, however, colored surfaces are preferred. Tinted plaster, a color wash on stucco, and glazed tiles are used to face the adobe.
Many early peoples who lived in regions where timber and stone were scarce used sun-dried clay as a building material. It was common in the Near East, the Mediterranean area, and the New World. In rainy regions a mud-brick house dissolved in about 15 years.
At the time of the Spanish conquest, the Spaniards, who knew adobe from Africa, found it being used also in the New World. They taught the Indians to mold the clay into large bricks. Adobe-brick construction proved so satisfactory that it was widely used for colonial buildings, many of which are still standing.