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!

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

Photographer Scot Zimmerman comes to Bluff!

Thank you Scot!!

This June Scot Zimmerman donated his time to Design Build Bluff and over the course of a few days photographed our most recent projects including Westwater, Nakai, Little Water and Shadeworks.  Enjoy his beautiful images!


2012 UCD Crew Visits Bluff for 2nd Time

The Fall semester is looking great! The 23 UCD students had their final visit to Bluff before the start of the semester. During their visit they rejuvenated an old bus stop near Lorraine’s homesite. It was a great way to get their hands dirty and a small taste of what’s to come this Fall. Check out their work…

Little Water by Night

Seems like the Little Water blog simply ended without showing many photos of the final results, so here’s a few night shots, something that not everyone got to experience while still down at Bluff.

Let the shading begin…

.... and the posts are set

This 2 week session has flown by. Check out the building process…


The posts are set and connected to the knife plates.


digging some dirt!

The crew spending quality time together digging out the seating space.


Out turn buckles did not quite come in the correct size… so Caitlin and Trevor are working on adjusting them.


Molly working on turn buckles

Molly is setting the turn buckles and preparing to string the cable!


Tightening the cable...

Cortland and Jason using their man power to tighten the cable line.


cables complete!

The cables are set and ready to start weaving the willow.


Weaving Willow

The shading is limited but clearly a success!


anchor knife plate

Anchor detail we are now calling ‘the fin’



Weaving is completed! This Maymester project has reached its end! Tomorrow we are having a Bluff town BBQ… if you are near come on by!


Final details…



What have we been up to!?

Design Build Bluff has kept busy here in Bluff! Just last week we completed Little Water. Ben and Sara Jone’s are set to move into their home beginning June. The student’s were able to have one final moment with Ben and Sara as they shared dinner and celebrated the semester’s success!

As one project finishes another one is always starting… For the first time ever, Design Build Bluff is working with UCD Landscape Architect students. 10 Landscape students moved to Bluff just over a week ago. The students first visited Bluff in March and have spent the last few months designing a shade structure along the San Juan River Walk.

The UCD Landscape students have been working hard on their foundation. Today they poured footings and placed the structure’s knife plates. Tomorrow they are set to place the posts and cables.


In the midst of Maymester, Design Build Bluff had visitors! 22 student’s from the 2012 Fall Design Build semester came to Bluff for their first ever visit! This weekend they met their client, Lorraine Toney, a mother of 5. During their visit, the student’s met Lorraine at her homesite to interview her as well as complete site analysis. Early July the student’s will return to Bluff to show Lorraine their final house design. Construction of this home will begin mid August.

2 day countdown…

With only two days left after today, beautiful details are surfacing.  The house is taking on a somewhat nautical feel, a mixed combination of natural and industrial (think vernacular meets steampunk), though no one planned it that way.  We have shark glass (aquarium acrylic) for the oculus, the rainscreen is made from purely reclaimed wood with tons of character, the terraces are retained by weathered wood resembling a floating dock, the hues of the interior match a turquoise beauty of the desert, colors not commonly matched.  It’s taking on a life of it’s own……….





A Day’s Work

Some days, it’s pretty incredible the amount of work that we can get accomplished in just one work day. Even on days like today when we’re shorthanded by half (congratulations to those of us who graduated today!), we still managed to get plenty of items crossed off our to-do lists.


Katie’s exterior cladding is catching up quickly with extra help from other students and staff members; she even powered through the heat in full-length clothing to cut down metal strips! Jeremy’s oculus is reaching the final stages of completion; it’s now clad, sealed, and properly roofed with its fancy acrylic skylight. We even stopped to play the old ‘how-many-students-can-you-fit-into-the-oculus’ game. (Hint: 8) Morgan prepped, primed, and painted all six of our doors on site with his ingenious door-painting method. Liz and Rachel both worked out the kitchen island, making sure that it fit perfectly into its place. We didn’t see or hear much from Hiroko and Atsushi, but the evidence of their dedication to our plastering continues to show up around the house. Check out the pictures below for the before-and-afters of today’s efforts.