When Hank Louis started the DesignBuildBLUFF program 12 years ago, his drive was to provide housing for families in need living in the Navajo Nation of southeastern Utah. As a team of graduate students finish up the program’s 21st project this month, Louis has made progress in reaching that goal.
DesignBuildBLUFF, an initiative of the school of architecture, allows first-year graduate students to design and build residential houses and cabins. Jose Galarza, program director and assistant professor in the school of architecture, said this year the goal is to broaden the impact and create a community center in the town of Bluff.
“You can service more people with a community project than you can for an individual home,” Galarza said.
The community center, named Cedar Hall, is completely clad in wood and has natural plaster that comes from the region. Students working on the project will use the hall for evening meetings, but Max Wood, a graduate student in architecture, said it can be used for any type of gathering.
Wood, currently living and working in Bluff, said the project is just finishing up doors, cabinets and furniture. Students spend three weeks working, receive a one-week break, then return for another three weeks. Sessions run from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and end with a group meeting every night.
While it is a lot of work, Wood is grateful for the experience he has gained from the project.
“We really understand what goes into a building because we students have done everything, from digging the foundation to pouring and mixing the concrete to putting down the rebar to building the walls,” he said.
The project started last Fall Semester with designing and planning the building, after studying indigenous Navajo architecture. At the start of this semester, they moved to a small campus in Bluff.
Cedar Hall will be completed at the end of April. An open house and celebration will be held in Bluff on April 30.
While this building will be for all community members, houses in the past were built specifically for families selected by local tribal chapters of the Navajo Nation. Galarza said community members have volunteered in the past to help with aspects of the construction.
“A lot of people contribute in any way that they can. It is a multi-faceted effort,” he said.
Members also help with cash and in-kind donations. The buildings typically cost about $50,000 to construct each year.
Galarza said the main mission of the program is “to teach students in a hands-on environment that is also cross-cultural.” Also, the program hopes to build up and support the Navajo Nation.