DBB Monument Valley Transport



From Bluff to Monument Valley. Transportation of the two modules built for the Monument Valley project. These modules are from the Spring 2011, University of Utah, DesignBuildBluff semester. Both modules were pre-fabricated in Bluff along with the West Water project. Now that they have arrived in Monument Valley, construction is only 30 days from completion.

Loading up Monument Valley modules…


We loaded up both Monument Valley modules with 2 jacks, 2 steel beams, 4 people, 24 FlexCrete-blocks, and a lot of 2×4 cribs.  The actual loading time took about 2 days (sunrise to sunset).  This time-lapse captures the second day on loading.  Enjoy!

Thank you very much “Utah Recycle”

We got hot water tank as a donation from Utah Recycle.

Please click the logo below to see Utah Recycle’s website.

Thank you very much.

- DesignBuildBLUFF and the students of the University of Utah 2012.

AIA Honor Award



DBB is the recent recipient of the Utah Chapter of the American Institute Architects Honor Award, the organization’s highest design honor.  The Whitehorse was constructed by 18 University of Utah students and floats above the desert floor on 8 reclaimed telephone poles.  Steel c-channels support the wood pallet rain screen and recycled aluminum sheets that make up the building’s exterior.  The earth plaster walls and aspen t&g ceiling surround the rocket stove, completing a cozy interior space. The home was selected by an independent jury of architects from outside the state of Utah, in competition with several other projects from around the state.


Current Project Status : LITTLE WATER

Current project site

12 Students from the University of Utah are under way with DesignBuildBluff’s 13th home. Little Water, named for its location, is a unique addition to DBB. The home will be built into the earth with nearly 130 ft of berm wall. This is a DBB first. Students completed their second session down in Bluff. They successfully completed the berm wall’s digging, construction and plastering. Over the course of two weeks the students laid nearly 800 CMU blocks weighing just under 23,000 pounds. Trenches for the water and septic lines were dug and now await their plumbing lines. A temporary electrical box is wired and connected to provide power to the site during construction. Final days of the week were spent in preparation for next session. Formwork for the foundation and slab-on-grade is placed and ready to go. The concrete pad will be poured when the students return in one week. Design Build Bluff would like to extend a big thanks to Big-D Construction for their large donation of materials, as well as Kyle Mullikin for his engineering services. These contributions have helped make this session a great success!

- Cindy Bethell



The new DesignBuildBLUFF website has launched with bolder images, more content, and more ways to interact with DBB. The website was inspired by the design and construction processes of the DBB students. We wanted the website to be as engaging as one of the iconic DesignBuildBLUFF houses (if that is possible). The idea is to cultivate experimental design with the end user always in mind.

We wanted to engage our fans by offering up more current and insightful information of our projects and events. The new site offers a fan page, where the latest information from the Twitter-sphere and images from Facebook are streamed seamlessly to our site. Additionally, all updates on DBB news and events can be viewed from our community fan page.


Browse through our past projects and visit each one’s photo gallery which showcase images of the entire process through its completion and blessing ceremony. You can almost witness the story of the students’ growth and how they become part of their client’s family, each one teaching and experiencing life lessons that will never be forgotten.


DBB is a program focused on its people: the students, families, Bluff community and staff. This new site, however, is for the people who support us, follow us, and “Like” us, as well as those who might be just discovering us. Our blog is flush with student perspectives from the past and current projects, DBB news & events, current status, and you can’t forget the crowd-pleasing, must-read musings of our philosophical leader, Hank Louis.


Hopefully this new website will help share the rich history and culture of DBB, as well as create some excitement for our future. We not only encourage you to interact with our new site, but to be a part of our growing community and bright future.


Enjoy the site, and feel free to share DesignBuildBLUFF.org with your friends and colleagues. Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts with us; we welcome your feedback and use it to make future improvements.


Happy surfing.


- Whalen Louis & Atsushi Yamamoto

It’s not about perfection…

Melissa Schnulle

We were warned on our first meeting—nothing in Bluff is perfect. And it’s true, nothing is. But they didn’t tell us that this imperfection envelops everything, unifies it, brings out the best in not only the program but also in ourselves. As architects, we get caught up in the minutiae and obsessed with the need to control—at Bluff, we are forced to let go of this. Out here, we’ve abandoned all sense of familiarity.


Bluff’s beauty emerges not in its sunrises nor in its red-faced mesas, but in the instant that our carefully crafted lines blur, where we lose the distinction between ourselves and our surroundings. This is the moment where architectural lessons—laying masonry courses, nailing sheathing, excavating rock—all become secondary to the lessons we are learning about ourselves. Each day is a continual resurfacing, a realization that brings us one step closer to understanding ourselves—and as far as I’m concerned, no other program offers such luxury.


A successful architecture studio doesn’t need perfection; it needs epiphany, a chance to change the way we operate. For me, last semester’s client, Lorraine, summed it up perfectly, “…I realized that accepting my house was simply receiving, no more than the other side of giving.” My entire life has always been seated on the receiving end of that equation, and now Bluff is allowing me to resurface, a chance to tip the scales.


- Melissa Schnulle

Skow and Nakai houses

The Skow house reinterprets the use of a standard lumber pack and existing block stem wall.  The inverted roof of “el sombrero,” towers and floats above the desert floor with sweeping views of Monument Valley.  Features include: inverted roof trusses, straw bale walls, post and beam construction, oil pipes as columns, glass curtain wall, rocket stove and a compressed earth block floor to name a few.  A complex house that will be complete in the coming months!


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.  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.  One of the few DBB homes to complete construction in 5 months and the first to end the semester with the lights on, thank you Mike Steele!


A special thanks to Big-D Construction and Park City contractors, Don Craig and Bill Hart for the stockpile of beautiful building materials.


- Andrew Foster

The Changing Landscape

So now they’ve ruined Indian Canyon, one of my favorite drives between Park City and Bluff. “So sad,” as says Atsushi Yamamoto, alumnus and four-year jack-of-all-trades staff member of DesignBuildBLUFF, when anything goes wrong. No shit. It reminds me of the quintessential Native American warrior who turned teary-eyed to the camera after some idiot had thrown a bag full of fast food trash at his feet in a television commercial to bolster Lady Bird Johnson’s Beautify America campaign.


I’ve been a ‘fan’ of, or in the even more current parlance, “liked”, SUWA (the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance) all of these years, always appreciating anyone or group who will passionately battle the ruthless corporate insanity of trashing the pristine vastness of this state and the rest of the West, or how about the whole globe, just because they can. And now we have Governor Gary Herbert whining that the Feds (read the Obama administration) have shrunk the number of publicly owned acreage that may be ravaged while at the same time berating individuals for contributing up to one-third of Salt Lake Valley’s ugliest air in the country. He maintains that we, the people, are guilty of tipping the the difference from Yellow air quality alerts to Red, when they recommend that we stay inside, and that school children take recess in the hallways. What a riot. What a joke is this politician, the epitome of the Peter Principle, which if you don’t remember, or are too young to have learned the theory that our organizations promote employees to the level of eventual, or ultimate incompetence. The only argument I’ve ever had against Jon Huntsman, Jr, is that he left our Life Elevated, Greatest Snow on Earth state in the grasp of a total buffoon. How about this, from the Op/Ed page of the Tribune just the other day?:
“Remember the tale of Chicken Little, who cried that “The sky is falling!”? Chicken Little is hit on the head by an acorn, whips his friends into a frenzy and convinces the others that the sky is falling, which ultimately leads to their being eaten by a fox. The moral of the story is not to believe everything you hear. This is still sound advice.


“To hear Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah’s congressional delegation tell it, times have never been harder for energy companies operating on public lands in Utah. Hardly a day seems to go by without Sen Orrin Hatch complaining that the Bureau of Land Management isn’t selling oil and gas leases fast enough, or Herbert imagining that the federal government is standing in the way of a robust energy sector. In other words, the sky is falling.
…According to The Salt Lake Tribune, at the end of 2011 the state of Utah had a record high number of 10,300 producing oil and gas wells , the majority of which are found on public lands… At the end of fiscal year 2011 there were just under 4.5 million acres of BLM managed lands under lease, but just over 1.1 million acres in production. That roughly 5:1 ratio has stayed steady for years… If anything needs to be fixed, it is the wildly unbalanced BLM land use plans left on Utah’s doorstep in 2008 as the Bush administration left office. The plans opened more than 80% of eastern and southern Utah’s BLM managed lands to oil and gas leasing, including millions of acres of the state’s wildest public lands.”


Don’t get me wrong. Very high on my list is kicking action toward minimizing, in hope of finally eliminating, our reliance on imported foreign oil. As I’ve written before and continue to espouse to whomever might lend an ear, there are multiple manners by which we can achieve it, all of which need to be attacked (via research and experiment and failure) concurrently, siphoning off subsidies paid to the too big to fail, tax credits, encouragement of the proud American entrepreneurial spirit, cheerleading the Dream that’s thought lost by the droves, whatever percentage you care to use. Likely no single maneuver or direction – not wind alone, nor solar, nor geothermal, nor tidal, nor nuclear, nor fill in the blank (we know there are hundreds to thousands of wild and crazy ideas out there, including the elusive cold fusion, just read Freakonomics or Superfreakonomics, think about Helium3, or mining platinum on the moon – explain to me that you imagined that all of these slimmer and slimmer portable boxes and slick devices would drive our days and nights, or that Apple, Inc, would briefly climb to become the Fortune 1) – no, no idea can yet be singled out to accomplish our goal. Yet everything might, alternatively to spewing carbon, that is. It’s killing Indian Canyon. It kills another species at least daily, maybe, chillingly, every hour. Michael Sorkin, the architectural critic, years ago explained to an audience I was fortunate enough to be a part of, that our planet is quite like an airplane, wherein every species comprises a rivet holding fuselage and wings together, and that as each one fails its way to extinction the ability to fly altogether reaches its tipping point at which we all, homo sapiens included, go down with the ship. The environment will survive, of course: the case is how soon will our stuff become like so many artifacts in a future Museum of Natural History, and we so many bones wired together with a little guesswork.


Those giant metal chicken looking things pecking at the earth, flattened pads beneath the whole ordeal to hold and access them and the gray-and-green-painted cylinders failing miserably to achieve camouflage, pipes snaking away above grade, surely counter reasonable code, backhoes and front-end loaders compacting more of the same scarring unnatural flat pads, and drill rigs boring for more, more, more. What was it that dolt woman (her appearance on Saturday Night Live generated one of its highest ratings ever) from Alaska said? “Drill, baby, drill?” Should we worry that our comedians, in this case the remarkable Tina Fey, are seemingly infinitely more intelligent than our politicians? David Brooks, a favorite of mine from the New York Times, began a statement the other night, “Lesser pundits would say…” Brilliant and hilarious, cracking up the whole panel. It reminded me of the debate between Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart (who by the way, comes up just after Jon Huntsman on a Google search) on the latter’s show, who kept having to remind the controversial conservation talking head that he is a comedian, not to be taken seriously. Many of our wisest ancestors have been attributed the quote that “there exists not a shred of scientific evidence that life is serious.” Alan Watts said that that’s why angels are light.


The canyon at its most beautiful is but a quarter to half a mile wide, so these ugliest of chickens are spitting distance from the road. We pull over to retch – actually to urinate (it’s a long drive from Bluff to Park City), but what’s the difference, either provides the Bill McDonough’s Waste=Food nutrition to some little, even microscopic critter. And I’m thinking that Ed Abbey probably had it right; throw your beer bottles or cans out the window, for the road is a despicable intrusion and pollution in and of itself. Pisser, I couldn’t bring myself to that edge of Abbey’s monkey wrenching frenzy, no Henny Penny or Loosey Goosey me; I still tilt toward Lady Bird’s windmill, toward clean and positive energy. They don’t take these chickens away once drought leaves them impotent. Something akin to Moore’s Law tells me that even the spare parts will be obsolete. The Chinese might dig the rusted steel, though, who knows.


About a mile or so past the Eve of Destruction, where the North Fork of Indian Canyon veers toward what I’ve always determined to be the southwest, I see the old barn of a private cattle ranch with it’s south facing roof covered with either solar or solar thermal panels (my pedal has hit metal today, especially). Slowly a couple “what ifs” plug into my addlepated brain: what if these were giant shiny solar arrays? What if they were ten-story triple-winged (Mercedes or Peace?) wind generators? Those things appear beautiful at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon, and on my longer distance drives through Wyoming and the grain belt of the midwest, and arrays in the desert excite me to no end, as does the exploration of space (the only thing that Newt and I might agree upon – I’d be happy to be fired by you, Mitt). I’m keen on Helium3. I like to explore wilderness – in the side canyons all along the 80-mile stretch of Comb Ridge alongside Bluff one can easily feel him or herself to be the first intruder since the Anasazi packed up and hurriedly left back in 1230. Quickly you intuitively learn to hop rock to rock to leave no trace for the rest of the curious.
I dig risk, not the status quo of “close-ology”, how I was once explained the science of proximal drilling for oil in Texas, nor the tirelessly disruptive, distracting mechanical chickens. Noah would have banned them from the float, I believe.


At Bluff we provide “a place where chance can incubate.” Call it a version of the Ark.


- Hank Louis

Westwater student’s reflection

Geoffrey Burns ( right )

As a prospective licensed architect, the impression of what Design Build Bluff provides in terms of education and experience has been imprinted to remain with me for the rest of my life. The challenges faced and overcame through thought, reasoning, and teamwork prepare us now as professionals and provides a powerful tool to help face our challenges in the future.

It is not just about designing and building a home, it is about relationships and how you work with people. When all is said and done, people are what matter. We are building these homes for people and building them with human comfort in mind. The homes are being built by students, which along the way learn through trial and error the importance of details, cost, feasibility, and planning.

When I came to Bluff for our first bi-week session, it was much to take in knowing we have officially started the design build semester. It was a time of adaptation to the new living conditions while still refining the design of the homes. It is a very intense environment being in studio where you work during the day to prepare the site/property for the building of the homes, and at night developing the design. Additionally, trying to come up with innovative material reuse and sustainable practice ideas was a challenge but also of prime importance.

Throughout the semester, everyone seemed to find their place in the development of the homes. Part of the challenge was project management and carefully coordinating everyone with a specific task that they felt was fulfilling and most educationally rewarding. At the end when it came to the move of the Westwater home, everyone watched as the house was set in place by the crane with a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.


- Geoffrey Burns