A neither/nor proposition…

Fall’s mold or sage’s bloom, or the Idaho forest fires’ smoke — hay fever season — has my sinuses  in a vise grip, forcing drainage to full flow.  So I wonder, as always, as every autumn it thunders into my skull on massive buffalo hooves like clockwork, like the springtime turkey buzzards’ return to Bluff — I wonder:  is it more environmentally appreciative to toss soiled tissues into the toilet, or into the trash? (Of course I know well enough not to use what we generically call Kleenex — I learned a hundred years ago, not so much because of ungreen superfluous packaging, but the equally allergenic, oily, cheesy perfume, the same that leaves your unclean seeing glasses even filmier and foggier than before.)  A conundrum, it seems, identical to the check-out lady’s old question, “Paper or plastic?”  There are arguments for, but mostly against, either.  A neither/nor proposition in the end, yet it begs a bring-your-own-washable-cotton-bag solution.  As we reach paralysis (on many levels), do we traipse backward to employ what has been derided a ‘snot rag’?  Yeck! we think.  Why so enamored of the antiseptic?  (Not just any kind of bag, mind you, but “washable” cotton for your groceries — doesn’t that sully the water, too?)  Save up for a mini weenie roast bonfire?  What are the front-end costs of compostable?  You do have to include environmental accounting — what does it do to the “good bacteria”?  Head spinning even worse I consult the title which, indeed, laughs out loud:  How Bad Are Bananas?  Its subheading: The Carbon footprint of Everything.  For instance, bananas themselves:


“are good for just about everyone — athletes, people with high blood pressure, everyday cycle commuters in search of an energy top-up, or anyone wishing to chalk up their five servings of fruit and vegetables per day…They are grown in natural sunlight — no hot-housing required.  They keep well, so although they are grown thousands of miles from the end consumer, they are transported by boats (about 1 percent as bad as flying). There is hardly any packaging, if any, because they provide their own…”


But, it continues, “Don’t let me leave you with the impression that bananas are too good to be true…Of the 300 types in existence, almost all those we eat are of the single, cloned ‘Cavendish’ variety.  The adoption of this monoculture in pursuit of maximum, cheapest yields has been criticized for degrading the land and requiring the liberal use of pesticide and fungicide.  Furthermore, although land is dramatically better used for bananas than beef in terms of nutrition per acre, there are still parts of the world in which forests are being cleared for banana plantations.”  As I intimated, it’s a jungle out here!  The truth in accounting goes on to say that the only really bad bananas are any that you let rot in your fruit bowl, joining “the scandalous 40 to 50 percent of food wasted in the U.S.”  I cringe, sheepishly run to pulse up a smoothie.  The book breaks down most other fruits, too, and vegetables, according to their “co2e” (carbon dioxide equivalent, which includes methane, nitrous oxide and refrigerant gases, all generally lumped into the warming, or weirding, culprit called “greenhouse”).  Other categories up and down the spectrum include:  A war, Driving one mile, A new car, Doing the dishes, A heart bypass operation, Christmas excess — tell me about it — and,


An email

0.3 g co2e a spam email

4 g co2e a proper email

50 g co2e an email with long and tiresome attachment that you have to read

> A typical year of incoming mail adds up to 135 kg (300 lbs.)

co2e:  over 1 percent of the 10-ton lifestyle and equivalent to driving 200 miles in an average car.


I knew there was a reason I eschew it, email, to my and everyone else’s detriment, they say.  But the actual detriment comes because I don’t really eschew it, truly.  I dabble in it, putting my own particular screw to the world.  A virtual cad who knows next to nothing about CAD, much less BIM, but an athletic supporter in a cheerleading fashion, leading people on, mysteriously vacating a questionable broadband-aided self for weeks, even months at a time.  Then coming back to turn it in a little deeper.


I do freak about a misplaced iPhone, but secretly I loathe it just the same.  Ehlias, my son, Skyped the other day (verbs these days, to Skype, to FedEx) from Aix-en-Provence, and recounted an exasperating, initiation-type gerbil wheel against which he’d been recently running madly.  He couldn’t buy a cell phone until he provided a bank account, couldn’t open a bank account until he had a semi-permanent residence, and he couldn’t find a semi-permanent residence until an agency might know him well enough to trust him, stemming from French law, skewed, not surprisingly, to the favor of lessees.  Not exactly sympathetic, as unfortunately can be my wont, I spewed a version of back in the day having to walk five miles to school through inconceivably deep (remember warming, weirding?) snow; I reminded him that for several years while he was growing up (in a Banana Republic, as it were) we didn’t have even what we now call a land line, relying instead upon the local cantina’s connection to news about four kilometers south in Matapalo, named for the ubiquitous vine (there in the un-virtual jungle) that chokes trees to death.  I suppose, however, it’s all relative.  As I said, I freak when I don’t feel the wireless umbilical buzzing my front right pocket, or when it has died and I’m lacking the hard-wire umbilical to plug into the grid!


So, I pick up the Sunday New York Times, which from distraction and personality I stretch throughout the week.  Someone I once hung out with pointed out the potential fact that relationship compatibility could possibly depend upon the order in which you read its sections, adding fuel to the argument that opposites attract.  It should shock no one that found at the bottom of my pile is the front page.  Addlepated, maybe, but I’d be dumbfounded further to learn that anyone other than a wonk reads the first things first, and even he would seek out what used to be called The Week in Review, or Op/Ed, which now have been combined.  Getting to the front page, lead article:  Power, Pollution and the Internet, Industry Wastes Vast Amounts of Electricity, Belying Image.  Seems the Times has conducted a yearlong examination.  It begins with an amusing anecdote about back in the day, Moore’s Law style, early 2006, when Facebook’s 2400 square foot bank of servers were about to melt from overheating and the engineering chief “cleaned out all of the Walgreens in the area” of their fans as solution.  Today the company requires outsize versions of that facility, spreading over hundreds of thousands of square feet, and  those are a “mere fraction of the tens of thousands of data centers” using “about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants.”  Piling on, “McKinsey & Company analyzed energy use by data centers and found that, on average, they were using only 6 percent to 12 percent of the electricity powering their servers to perform computations.”  Ten years ago the most data-intensive customer had about 50,000 gigabytes in its entire database; now roughly a million gigabytes are processed and stored in a data center during the creation of a single 3-D animated movie.  “Sending a message with photographs to a neighbor could involve a trip through hundreds or thousands of miles of Internet conduits and multiple data centers before the e-mail arrives across the street.”  Talk about perspective.  I had thought that computerizing everything was supposed to save energy and resources, you know, the old paperless promise, saving trees (should we de- or re-jungle?).  There are other ways, sure, but I feel a little bit sang and danced.  And the cloud?  The cloud, according to a source, “just changes where the applications are running.  It all goes to a data center somewhere.”  The cloud is disk drives.  What’s driving this massive growth is “the end-user expectation of anything, anytime, anywhere.”  We have seen the enemy and he is us.  Earlier:  “player statistics flowing into servers that calculate fantasy points and league rankings, snapshots from nearly forgotten vacations kept forever in storage devices.  It is only when the repetitions of those and similar transactions are added up that they start to become impressive.”  Impressive, check that:  I have seen the enemy and he is me.


I threw the tissue in the toilet, thinking that one, like I said, it wasn’t the fancy, lacy-traced, smelly stuff from out of an extra chipboard box, but toilet paper, not super squeezy, but not that cheap, loud, waxy kind you find in squat or National Forest facilities, either, more the Goldilocks type; and two, that water’s bound to be flushed sooner or later with more pressing concerns, hence, I can walk away from the two-point shot and follow through, conscience clean.  Is that any way to spin it, though?  It’s a least bad, weaselly option at best, I’m afraid.  Gunking it up down the toilet over here, Boss.  What if it were a privately-owned septic?  The utter arrogance of my action, albeit decisive, reminded me of a recent piece published in another paper, the Salt Lake Tribune — no, not about him, not necessarily — that nearly made me drop and hug that same commode.  Arguing about a move to disallow homeowners to retain ambiance by legally declaring their neighborhood an historic district in the wake of tear-downs and the ensuing erection of starter castles, Salt Lake City Council Chairman Soren Simonsen (an architect), said “that the 51 percent approval is measured only by the ballots returned to the city.  That, he maintained, makes the threshold lower and the historic district designation easier to attain because disinterested homeowners most likely won’t participate.”  Terrific.  Banking on disinterest; policy by ambivalence.  As if this current election doesn’t really matter perhaps because of the omnipresent Washington partisan gridlock, or because this state’s already been painted a deep, deep red, or because it’s only part of an election cycle.


Winter, at least, gives me temporary reprieve to at last wrest the white, or the black, or even the black and white from unending gray phlegm.

Rain house

Design Build Bluff is well under way on this semester’s project, Rain House.  We are a full house this semester with 20 students from UC Denver and 2 from Southern Utah University Engineering department.  This collaboration of universities has been an exciting adventure for our program.


This semester’s recipient is Lorraine Toney and her five children.  The project required special attention to programming due to her family size so the budget for this house was set at $29,000 to accommodate the families basic needs.  The student’s found a successful way to solve the design problem of building for a family of 6 using a minimal footprint. The main concept was to allow the house to have enough amenities and space.  Their concept, the ‘Bar Box’, is a linear rectangular form that provides spaces of sleeping and living while the intersecting box provides the main utilities including bathroom, laundry and storage. The final design is 1200 SF with 3 bedrooms to allow Lorraine privacy as well as separate the female and male children.


Unlike any other DBB house, this house is being constructed of concrete walls.  This has been a fantastic experiment for both the students and staff. Thanks to Big-D Construction we were able to acquire the necessary concrete form work to begin the build. Over the course of the design semester, the students collaborated with the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado to model the house design in their energy software called Energy Plus.  This software allowed the students the opportunity so see how their house will function in both winter and summer.  The house was designed to passively heat in the winter strictly by solar gain. With 20% glazing on the south facade, the concrete floor will absorb enough heat to radiate throughout the night.  It is critical to have what we are calling nighttime insulation. This will essentially be interior window shades that block the heat from escaping during the nighttime hours. During the summer, the roof shading will prevent any solar gain from entering the house.  Studies show the house to be 60 degrees during they winter and 70 degrees during the summer.


The concrete wall is highly detailed with a 3” exterior concrete veneer, 3” rigid foam and 6” interior concrete structure.  Student’s worked with Thermomass to detail the wall to ensure that the thermal break will keep the interior properly insulated. The student’s completed sample after sample to achieve the color of concrete they wanted. The final mixture includes sifted site sand, white and gray portland cement, aggregate and red and brown concrete dye.  The concrete is being poured in 12” lifts to achieve a horizontal look resembling the aesthetic of rammed earth.  We have already poured the entire east end and were thrilled to see the final color and horizontal striations.


We will be starting our 3rd session with completing the west concrete wall that will be followed by the interior framing and roof framing. We are on schedule and working away through rain and shine.  This fall has brought plenty of heat and plenty of rain!

Little Water

Design Build Bluff is excited to announce the completion of Little Water, its 13th house.

The home was completed this past May of 2012. The crew of 12 University of Utah student’s named Little water after the surrounding region. Recipients of this semester’s build were Ben and Sara Jones. Little Water is a unique addition to the Design Build Bluff family as it is ADA accessible. As an elderly couple with limited mobility, Ben and Sara required full ADA-accessibility to accommodate their needs, a DesignBuildBLUFF first. Completed in just over five months, the 1,060 square foot Little Water features two bedrooms, one ADA bathroom/shower and an open kitchen/living space. Spirits were high as all the hard work the students endured commenced in a celebratory dinner party with Ben and Sara.

The student’s goals were to explore and experiment with passive heating and cooling techniques. Overall, the students designed five different systems to ensure the house would function in both winter and summer. These explorations include an insulated thermal berm wall, a straw bale wall, a solar oculus for natural ventilation and cooling, a ventilated second roof and a rocket stove.

The berm wall was not only an aesthetic design decision but also a way to moderate temperature as well as protect the structural block wall from expansion and compression with temperature change. In order to do so, the berm needed to be fully insulated. In section, the berm was built up part way with soil and then covered with a series of layers, all contributing to overall function of the wall. The bottom layer of soil was covered with straw, cardboard, a waterproofing membrane, foam, landscape cloth, gravel and finally a 3’ layer of top soil. Terraces were added and necessary to prevent the berm from erosion and washing away.

The other exterior walls are R-36 insulated straw bale. This straw bale wall acts as a thermal barrier holding heat in during the winter and keeping heat out during the summer. Here in Bluff we are able to gather clay locally which was used to finish the interior and exterior straw bales with a natural earth plaster.

The solar oculus is designed aesthetically as a light well and functionally as a natural ventilation system. During the hot summer, the lower clear story windows and oculus vents can be opened and through the properties of ventilation, allow the hot air to escape from the oculus vents.. As a back up cooling method, an evaporative cooling system was installed with ducts running through the berm and into the house much similar to earth tubes. The air circulated into the house will be cooled by both the evaporative cooler and the earth in the berm.

In addition to these systems, a secondary roof structure provides an air barrier between the metal finished roof and the building envelope’s roof structure. As the finished roof heats throughout the day, the air barrier blocks heat from being absorbed into the house.

The heating source for Little Water is a mass rocket stove constructed of earth block and cob. This stove requires only small pieces of wood as the fuel source. The exhaust heat from the fire is drawn through 35’ of stove pipe that runs inside the clay bench. As the heat travels through the stove pipe, it radiates through the bench. After several hours of burning, the entire block bench will have absorbed enough heat to radiate into the surrounding areas.

Final images of the house were taken by Park City photographer Scot Zimmerman. Design Build Bluff would like to thank Scot for donating his time and photographs to our program! These images can be found on our Blog as well as Facebook page.



No Better Way to Learn


When family and friends ask about the DesignBuild Bluff experience, I answer them by saying “I’ve learned more in the past four weeks of construction than I have the previous two years of lecture.” My statement is not intended to be an insult to my classes at the University of Colorado Denver, instead it is a testament to the power of learning through application.


I am among 22 students who traded in our drafting table and textbooks for a tool belt and the opportunity to become a member of the DesignBuildBLUFF (DBB) program. I joined DBB because I desired something  unique, expanding beyond the lecture hall.


Upon first arrival in Bluff, I realized that nothing comes easy. If you have ever studied abroad, this is a similar environment where daily tasks prove to be challenging. Obtaining groceries, traveling from A to B, and communicating with loved ones are less convenient than our lives on campus in Denver. They are all great challenges and force us out of our comfort zone. The greatest challenge is the most exciting, building a home for our adopted family. It is a jump from basswood and glue models to 2 x 4’s and 3” deck screws but I have come to believe there is no better way to learn about Architecture than to bring it to life. I had never heard of a skill saw or impact driver until I arrived in Bluff. Now I’m thinking of putting them on my next Christmas list.


I thought the transition from Denver to Bluff would be the most difficult, but now I find myself wondering how on earth I’ll go back to sitting in a classroom.


Elise Mascitelli

A Transformation

I suspect that years from now, I will view my experience with DesignBUildBLUFF as one of the most influential of my adult life. Of course, I knew that the semester would be a good one before I even got to Bluff – I would be working outdoors with good people for a good cause, and there wouldn’t be any studio all-nighters. I wasn’t prepared, however, for the ways that it would transform me internally. Working on the Little Water house for Ben and Sarah Jones allowed me to see the power of architecture as a social force in the community and for an individual family. Getting this firsthand experience eroded much of my cynicism until I began believing the platitudes about “calloused hand and open hearts.” I see now that one person really can make a positive change in the world, and not just any person – even me.


Morgan Williams

3form + dbB

3form, one of DesignBuildBluff’s most familial, philosophical and economic partners, began in Salt Lake City in 1991 “with a vision to create design-driven materials with an unyielding commitment to environmental responsibility.” It has been known around these parts mostly for its production of sustainable translucent panels integrally sandwiching just about anything, organic or no, depending upon its gauge, and yet you get the feeling, talking to any handful of young designers cruising around the Salt Lake City headquarters that they might just give it a whirl, you get the feeling that they might just give anything a whirl. Whatever. Challenge them. For a thin enough wood veneer to appease the infamously detail oriented Liz Diller, of the New York based firm Scofidio, Diller + Renfro, to enliven the interior of the remodel for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Ruben Suare combed the globe to find the suitable machinery. As always in the creative realm stories vary about the idea’s germ (there was a great article in the New Yorker about the project) — we humans are political animals, alas — but the result shouts out brilliance. That the unveiling and buzz of this high profile commission (for Ms. Diller, no project’s profile lingers much below the whole blue sky, really) dovetailed with the company’s acquisition by global giant Hunter Douglas, 3form sprinted away from the blocks in 2007, and today it blows past everyone else running that loop like they were walking off the old three martini lunch.

If you haven’t already, go directly to the film Art & Copy (yes, it was shown a couple of years ago at the Sundance Film Festival, source for the documentary Nile). The tagline for the movie when it was being marketed at Sundance: Fail Harder. The spectrum at these creative institutions (perhaps oxymoronic) is no color line, but more a circle, or a sphere, or all of the electron paths of the craziest, heaviest atom, or a child’s imagination of string theory, where ‘hitting it out of the park’ might even be rubbing legs with ‘totally sucking wind’. 3form is one of those intersections where there is little discernible difference between work and play. It’s a place where a derivative is on one of the roller coaster paths described above, or even more irrelevant, as defined by Webster’s: Unoriginal.

Place is colorful, flexible, spacious. Don’t get too used to it, though. Tomorrow there might be a pingpong tournament in the conference room. Commercial contract furniture interior designers have always baffled me, especially considering the great innovations conjured, molded, refined and then packaged in the semi-organized chaos at offices like, say, Apple. I’ve always wondered about developers and/or architects or even ineffectual urban planners (they once worked for the developers, or will) who suspend reason to try to let them create a Mediterranean hill town by snapping fingers, sweeping their hammed fists, with an air- and water-tight tome of CC&Rs that will, at their luckiest, define this unfortunate Seaside gone tangibly viral, having been interesting once, like the town I live in, Park City, Utah, in its uniform disparity or disparate uniformity, which is my definition of the glass slipper.

Talley Goodsen’s founding 3form vision, quoted above, imbues the people, the place and the product. Fortunately for us, DesignBuildBLUFF and Talley bumped into one another at a Thai restaurant in an awful strip mall somewhere near Salt Lake Community College. Kick-ass 3form panels were the architecture student candy of the era, like alucobond reigned when I was sleeping over at the Graduate School of Architecture (which, you have to admit, sounds so much more ivy-covered than CA+P). But, I’ll admit, being dumbfounded by the hedge fund and Too Big To Fail guy’s senses of the word, moreover concept of a derivative, few design collaborations are made in places less funky and a little less scary and terrifying (in all respects) than great Asian food in seas of asphalt. They way it developed, however, is that we mostly took; there was the bone pile, of course, and the pallets anchored by aluminum sheets spent from the compression of the ecoresin panels (co-polyester recycled content product), outside of copper the gold of the still somewhat seedy recycling world. The aluminum panels have become one of the signature of a DesignBuild BLUFF home – check it out. Oh, sorry, I forget that we’re preaching to the choir in this e-publication, so have everyone in your Facebook, Twitter or Linked In like us or be a fan or comment or…just check it out – although I know of two, certainly, there are very few people we offend. Maybe we should try to offend more in that no publicity is bad publicity, I don’t know.

I do know, however, that Talley and his wildly talented and wholly committed 3form gang only bring the public joy while at the same time caring deeply about the survival of our species.

Horizons at 3form have expanded in every direction. DesignBuildBLUFF has been offered the opportunity to take this collaboration to the human growth hormone level. No longer just a give and take relationship, we’re going to take this thing to design. We’ve been invited to work together to design and use the 3form company’s products in search of their ultimate capacity, utility and delight. Our answer, of course: bring it on. Like us now; like us and them even better next spring.

It’s the Institution, stupid…

Hank’s Diary: Spring 2012

A few years ago I received a note from the founder of the Sun, a terrific magazine of interviews, literature and readers’ writings about topics which are planned and deadlines published a year or so in advance. The magazine was on the ropes, and the founder/publisher/editor had decided that things needed to change, economically, in order for it to sustain itself. Like those great television advertisements that you can’t ever recall exactly what it is they were hawking (Jobs and Chiat-Day’s famous 1984 commercial for a Super Bowl long before the roman numeral L loomed, for instance), I don’t remember exactly the strategy offered by this brilliant man of the Sun – it might have been just a hike in the price of subscriptions in order to keep the slim magazine advertiser-free, a huge basis for editorial freedom, for sticking to convictions, virtues, rubbing away the silvery goo on a lottery ticket called Truth – but apparently it worked. Just the other day, at the end page of the Utne Reader, Eric Utne himself wrote that the magazine he’d founded was now moving to Topeka, classically not Minneapolis, after having been bought out a few years prior. He wasn’t melancholy. Hardly, far from it, more of a cheerleader – it was his baby, after all. You let your children grow up and go off to college and all you can do is encourage and advise either quietly or boisterously from the sidelines. Mr. Utne had a couple of suggestions about departments to keep, and the culture they would, he hoped, maintain, but otherwise fanned the new group to go wild, combust, experiment with new ideas. When Tina Brown, editor of Vanity Fair, moved to the New Yorker it seemed as if everyone collectively shuddered; the stakes for the magazine for literature (along with the Paris Review) with its venerable Baffert-esque stable of whinnying and brushed down writers here and then who made their names household, big screen, along with the tugging and leading and perhaps even love from two longtime editors who stood not in the shadows, but basking in the glow of the talent who actually admitted their genius in mentorship. It was all going to come crashing down – there again was that ubiquitous Chicken Little. What did Ms Brown do? To the world as well as to writing, she brought color. The covers of the Atlantic Monthly and Harpers change just about mid-generation, it seems, or each time a newly hired editor hires his colleague, the new art director.

It’s the institution, stupid.

The headmaster – in fact, John McPhee wrote a book about him, called The Headmaster, who we not altogether affectionately called the Quid, and it took me a long time to understand why we did so (it was slang for a wad of chewing tobacco, he being the player/coach of the baseball team, whose field was the only sport featured on the upper quad) – the headmaster at the school where I began my secondary school years had been in that capacity for more than 60 years. The second ever in history joined us during my senior year and suspended me (and a few other friends) for a few weeks at the end of the year. We were the first ever to be suspended, or so it is remembered, the Quid never admitting that he couldn’t turn a kid around single-handedly to be an esteemed citizen for the present and future. Anyway, we were misjudged in the grand scheme of things, 90 percent innocent – there were girls and drink – but wholly innocent of the charges, which were trashing, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, a mogul’s penthouse who knows where in New York City (I’d come from Phoenix). He – the mogul – had showed up the weekend after us, visiting his perch for the first time in an untold number of years. He had something like 12 sons, one of whom was our buddy who’d backed out of joining us at the eleventh hour, another who was in his mid-40s or maybe older, from like five or so wives ago, and many of them had been taking advantage of the place week in and out for years. We’d noticed champagne and other stains all over the place when we’d visited. The Quid would have been angry, for sure, but he might have been more lenient, understanding things about the mogul, who’d sent every one of his kids to the school. But we were a convenient example. I never minded, truthfully. I never minded. My parents had known all about it, and my penance was to go to the library at Arizona State University with coeds for three weeks in order to write a thesis-like paper. Today the school keeps pumping out world-renown statesmen, CEOs and artists alike.

I’m not physically nor emotionally running this gig for 60 or more years. I’m probably not physically running it at all any more, really, although I wish I were able. I like spending time with these students, kids younger than my oldest sons. I like getting to know them, maybe even helping them get to know just who they themselves are, or, more importantly, who they can be. I have no design on it, no real pedagogical sense, really; it drives all of the academics crazy. I can try to be apologetic for it, knowing how serious they all seem to be about their meetings and things. I’m a fan of Mockbee, Socrates, and even Rem Koolhaus, I’d guess, who refuses to teach anything he thinks he knows anything about, or so we’re told. I’m on record just about everywhere with an advocacy of Paulo Lugari’s advice to the apprehensive engineer/school head who he’d appointed to take the reins of his “village to reinvent the world”, Gaviotas, an experimentally sustainable community built from scrub by all kinds of engineers, brave and strong-willed, in the savannah of Colombia, “You only have to be right 51% of the time!” The stiff-collared of the bureaucracies of the Academy don’t seem to get that for a second.

We at DesignBuildBLUFF work with the clients in order to achieve a home that will bring souls to tears of outright joy all around. It just happened with the home we’re calling Little Water, which we constructed for a pair of invalided Navajos, parents of a friend of ours, Gary, who has helped us with plumbing for the past couple of years (I would never deny the fact that we, like everyone else, don’t give me any shit, are a political organization, just like the behemoths that we work for and with). Tears were flowing from all sets of eyes as they so graciously and ceremonially professed their gratefulness for the home, not for themselves, but for a home that will stand and protect their grandchildren, and perhaps even their great grandchildren, allowing all of them to stand just that slight bit more erect.

Recently we made a mistake by choosing the wrong client to receive one of the smallish – 1,000 square feet or fewer – pieces of architecture we design and build for them, free of charge. In the case of a person who I thought might be good for the Reservation as a whole, an educator in the midst of his PhD studies at the University of Utah, his wife a respected school teacher in the Salt Lake Valley, anxiously awaiting a return to teach the children of her own culture. He whined because we couldn’t provide him surround sound, nor a hot tub. He’s just a tiny smear, like most of us; he just wants to be bigger.

It’s the institution, stupid. It’s the students. They’ll keep scraping away at that silvery goo on a lottery ticket called Truth.

Rachel Cusimano: Desgin Build + Creativity

It seemed so much easier as a child to be imaginative. Did I lose it? Or was it obscured amongst textbooks and trying to be creative strictly on the terms of the person paying or grading me? It has been quite different this semester in Bluff. Terry Tempest Williams once said, “Let go of cultural biases and societal constraints, taking time to experience earth as it is, raw and self-defined.” I feel I have done this, in both an environmentalist and builder standpoint; paired with either a hammer or shovel in my hand, over the last four unyielding months. I’ve attained plenty of knowledge and exposure to morals such as this.
Design-build practice is a positive approach to building for the future of the architectural profession. In addition, the need for low-income housing, unfortunately, will always be an issue. Sustainable building strategies, regional and recycled materiality, smart construction, and minimal waste; all these things we’ve accomplished over the course of the program with our bare hands and creative minds, all are the future of embracing our beautiful planet as well as making a positive impact on those less fortunate.
–Rachel Cusimano, Little Water House -2012

Nakai House

The Nakai house surrounds a bookshelf and captures the spirit of the client and the surrounding homestead.  A parabolic roof that seems to move with the wind and the surrounding dunes rises above a spandrel glass rain screen that reflects the desert landscape.  Vertical tongue and groove cedar wraps the house above the band of glass and abuts to the knife edge overhang of the corten steel roof. A ribbon window frames Cedar Mesa perfectly while seated at the kitchen table and a window seat projects outward beneath the shade of a tree, a place for Lorraine to read.  The house is divided by a large bookshelf running the length of the home with a long slender public corridor and the more private bed and bath accessible through the bookshelf. One of the few DBB homes to complete construction in 5 months and the first to end the semester with the lights on. The DBB construction process is often as unpredictable as the weather in the Desert Southwest; the 8 UCD students successfully navigated all obstacles along the way resulting in a home that reflects the very landscape it resides within.

Little Water: Completion is Upon Us

The end of the semester is upon us… creating a nostalgic reflection of the last 4 months, one cannot help but absorb, look back, and see all that was taught and learned (even for staff members). As the days have gone by, new relationships formed between students and the incredible transformation of creativity was brought to life. Through the course of the semester we see the highest highs and the lowest lows; sometimes even bringing tears of stress.

With the final work day finished, the students can celebrate a great success and will leave Bluff with the satisfaction of knowing their home is complete. To complete a home in one semester is a huge goal to reach, and they have done a tremendous job. It is at this moment we can all look back and say ‘this was worth it!’

Final features of the Little Water project include an insulated berm wall system, a solar chimney, a rocket stove, a second roof ventilation system, a bread oven and ADA accessibility. This home will be fully powered with electricity this week with the water line shortly after. Ben and Sara are scheduled to move in early June.