Abstract This study investigates the response of adobe bricks to compressive loading. It records the state-of-the-art in adobe characterization and it provides extensive experimental data on samples of various sizes tested in compression. The results are discussed in the context of practical structural engineering design. Adobe modes of failure sustained under compression are analyzed explicitly and the effects of specimen form and size on the final test results are highlighted. The effect of the inherent inhomogeneity and natural randomness of adobe bricks on their mechanical behaviour is also underlined. The experimental data is used for the formulation of a constitutive model that describes adobe’s full stress–strain response. This model can be applied to adobes with variable strength and deformation characteristics and may be exploited for performing non-linear structural analyses.