Young architects build
cutting-edge Navajo homes
Condensed by Native Village
cutting-edge homes for
low-income Navajo families
living in or near the southeast
corner of Utah. The program has
built more than a dozen
custom-made homes designed by
graduate architecture students
on a shoestring budget.
DesignBuildBLUFF was founded in
2000 by Hank Louis, an adjunct
architecture professor at the
University of Utah. As a
"keeps the budget low so that
the creativity comes out," Louis
average home costs about
$150 per square foot
to build, but DesignBuildBLUFF
$50 per square foot.
The final construction cost is
Donations by companies and
groups also keep prices down.
DesignBuildBLUFF homes usually
look like structures in architectural
design magazine. Made from a medley of
materials, each has a
sense of rustic chic. Many details
are created by clay or wood to reflect
the Navajo use of earth tones.
And each home has an
entry to the east, an age-old
Navajo practice that honors the daily rising sun.
"Everyone has their own twist on
the what the Navajo tradition
is, even the Navajo," Louis
said, noting that each home is
different. Some are shaped like
hogans, the traditional,
octagonal Navajo homes. Others
styled like a Frank Lloyd
Wright tree house built on the
On the inside, some have
libraries, others dance areas,
and many central fireplaces or
stove areas. Outside, you can
find recycled shelves, recycled
mailboxes, and old printers'
Families' priorities — such as
space, efficiency, and style —
are taken into
account by the students who
"There's an immediate bond
between the students and
family," Louis said.
Most DBB students are from the University of Utah or
University of Colorado. They
entire semester just to learn design options
for the rural desert
Southwest. Students learn what
Navajo families require and what materials
to use without going over
During the second semester,
students live in Bluff and stay in a
turn-of-the-century ranch home
that Louis bought when he first
started the venture.
Students see the home
site, meet the family, and
collaborate to build the house.
was the best educational
experience I ever had," said Jen
who now works at an architecture
firm. "It was the only
time where I felt like I got a
real, practical experience."
Most architectural students
rarely get to leave the drawing
board during college, Lindley
said. That makes it hard to understand the
working conditions and methods
between contractors and workers
"I don't think I learned more in
grad school than I learned in
that entire semester," she said.
Most students who attend
the non-traditional program
consider it a rare, special
In the beginning, only eight
students were enrolled in the
DBB project. Now about 22
students -- the maximum number--
during each semester.
hopes to eventually reach
out to universities in Arizona
and New Mexico, the two other
states that overlap with the
Navajo Nation. He also hopes to expand
on the reservation.
DesignBuildBLUFF just finished a
home about a week ago, and it
will start another in January.
Eventually, the group hopes to
build more than one
home per semester.
"It changes every time," Louis
said of the many homes he and
his students have built.
Nor does he doesn't have a
"It's like asking me to name my
favorite child," he replied.
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