DesignBuildBLUFF: Architecture students collaborate with the Navajo nation to create sustainable housing

DesignBuildBLUFF, a University of Utah program, is bringing together architecture students with the Navajo nation to design and build sustainable homes on the Utah-based Navajo reservation.

In preparation for working alongside indigenous tribes to design and build full-scale works of architecture, up to sixteen students study indigenous architecture and Southwestern vernacular during the Autumn semester, as part of the DesignBuildBLUFF program.

DesignBuildBLUFF say: “DesignBuildBLUFF is about giving. Each year we give architecture students the chance to design and build a home on the Navajo reservation. Our students give their hearts creating a sustainable home for a deserving family.

“The families give their trust that the experimental and alternative building methods we employ will result in a home that will improve their lives. And the experience gives us inspired, socially responsible architects for the betterment of the global community.”

By the spring, students move more than 300 miles away from the school of architecture, to the remote campus’ small home and namesake in Bluff, close to the Navajo Nation’s northern regions. While there, students spend the better part of the time converting drawings into a habitable space.

DesignBuildBLUFF say: “We [DesignBuildBLUFF] emphasize sustainability and a respect for the unique social, cultural, and environmental needs of the region. Students are encouraged to explore alternative building methods, unique materials, and innovative solutions. It is, in a way, the ultimate sustainability to use elements naturally at hand, within reach, both physically and economically.”

Since its inception, DesignBuildBLUFF has completed 21 projects and over 265 students have participated in the program, as well as many more volunteers.

DesignBuildBLUFF’s latest work, Lone Tree, saw students develop a flexible housing prototype that could be easily built by would-be native homeowners. One half of the building contains private rooms and a plumbing core with bathroom and kitchen bar on either side; the other half is an open plan, intended to serve as a living room, gathering space, and hearth.

The open plan part of the building echoes Navajo concepts found in the traditional Hogan, where families carry out traditional ceremonies and also gather for communal events.

Using natural building techniques and materials sourced from site, the idea behind Lone Tree was such that natives could create similar homes using free and readily available materials, and additionally gain specialised skills that echo traditional culture.

The use of adobe flooring, lime finishes, and clay plasters through the Lone Tree build, allows for easy maintenance using components sourced from soil from the backyard.

The student-led Lone Tree design, in collaboration with the Dennehotso Sweat Equity Project, creates opportunities to more directly address the issues of homelessness across the Navajo Nation by empowering communities with the basic skills, design principles, and experience needed to build for themselves.

To support DesignBuildBLUFF or if you are interested in becoming a student, a home or international student, visit DesignBuildBLUFF.


Rosalind Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer who specialises in sustainable life & style, music, entertainments and wellbeing. Rosalind also works as a spiritual life coach and intuitive advisor helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives:


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