Construction doesn’t get any more essential than stacking stones, or any more advanced than CNC fabrication. David Escobedo’s work bridges those two extremes, applying up-to-the-minute technology to support an ancient way of building. A lifelong student of traditional masonry, Escobedo has read and traveled widely, learning from masters of the trade, both living and long dead. In recent years, he has updated their techniques with sophisticated machinery, gaining efficiency and cutting costs while remaining true to the timeless values of his craft.
Based near Austin, Texas, Escobedo’s company is a full-service general contractor with impressive capabilities in all phases of residential construction. “We have 36,000 square feet of space—between wood, stone, and steel—in three separate buildings,” Escobedo says. “And we’re CNC [equipped] in all three disciplines.” The company performs all of its own steel fabrication and carpentry, on houses that often top 20,000 square feet and typically take three years to build. But the company’s reputation is written—if you will—in stone, a material whose potential Escobedo exploits in all its dimensions: structural, cultural, and aesthetic. “It’s not just a veneer on the wall,” he explains. “We’ve been able to do true load-bearing masonry. I’ve done one mitered corner—only out of necessity—in 25 years.”
That dedication to authenticity shows in projects like the Mayan House, in preparation for which Escobedo traveled to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to study the 1,000-year-old stonework of the Palenque ruins. Like much of Escobedo’s work, the Mayan House’s limestone walls are laid dry, without mortar. “So the precision really has to be there to get the fit,” he explains.
Once, Escobedo’s masons would have executed the house’s finely carved stone columns and elaborate details entirely by hand. Now the company uses computer-controlled milling machinery to speed through the rough work, saving its skilled labor for the final carving. “Michelangelo, his CNC was the 20 [apprentices] he had beating on the stone until he was ready to go to work on it,” Escobedo says. “What we’re doing with the machinery is speeding up the process, but we’ve kept the old-world technique.”