Mission: Providing housing on the Navajo Reservation and hands-on education to University of Utah architecture students
Area of Operation: The Navajo Nation located in the southeastern corner of Utah
Each January, 22 graduate students from the University of Utah’s architecture program relocate for one semester to the tiny town of Bluff, next door to the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation. In a journey that’s half humanitarian outreach and half educational gestalt, they’ll design and build a low-cost, supremely energy-efficient home for one family living on the impoverished reservation.
“Learning in the real world is so many times better than listening to a lecture,” says program founder Hank Louis. “I’m with these kids 12, 15 hours a day. They wake up and they are rolling. This is an opportunity to build better architects through teaching them to have compassion for other people.”
Louis started DesignBuildBLUFF because he didn’t think students emerging with architecture degrees had enough practical knowledge. They could design structures but hadn’t a clue how to actually build them. At the same time, Louis saw the need for housing on the reservation. And so the idea emerged.
“Let’s build these people quality houses and let these students figure out how to do it,” he says.
Thus far, the program has built nine homes, and Louis has no plans to slow down. He has partnered with the University of Colorado and is working with students from there to build homes during the fall term, making for a year-round presence on the reservation.
What’s next? “Last year we started looking at designing some prefabricated housing,” Louis says. “We’d like to figure out a way to build a lot of houses at once and get them to more people.”
How to Help:
DesignBuildBLUFF accepts donations, from cash to building materials. There is also a new program for volunteers to lend a hand on-site. For more information, visit designbuildbluff.org or call 435-649-7080.
By the Numbers:
9 Homes on the Navajo reservation
187 Students who have completed the program
$60,000 Average cost for one student-designed home
1,056 Average hours of work per home