what we do

What we do

Building better architects with Native communities

Every fall, a graduate studio of up to sixteen students designs a pre-identified architectural project for a beneficiary of the Navajo Nation in the southern Utah tribal area. Historically these are small single family homes assigned by the local tribal chapters. In preparation these students study indigenous architecture and Southwestern vernacular. They read building specifications, make working drawings and project management documents. And in spring they move more than 300 miles away from the school of architecture, to the remote campus’ small home and namesake in Bluff, close to the Navajo Nation’s northernmost chapters. They spend the better part of this semester converting drawings into habitable space. As the edifice rises, so does a community of cohorts, who can boast hands on experience of construction, teamwork, successful project delivery, budget management, publication of their work and incredible amount of physical labor—all upon mere graduation.

They come to appreciate the expertise of plumbers and electricians; the knowledge of vendors, and the importance of sunscreen. During the economically dark years after 2008 should we be surprised if Bluff graduates got an edge with employers over peers who opted for the certainties of university environs and the comforts of home instead? Participants agree that Bluff is an absolutely transformative experience for everyone who participates in it. It has turned idealistic students into professionals not just invested in public interest rhetoric but an ability to execute it. It has injected the workforce with architects who know how to activate the power of humble projects over glittering spectacles. Bluff has serviced the profession with professionals capable of taking advantage of the room made by small scale commissions for delicate gestures and sensitive details; the occasion they create for intimate knowledge of the functional needs of the client; and the time they allow for introducing small pleasures and comforts of life into a house. Bluff is a year trainees spend in the apprenticeship of the god of small things.