University of Utah program to build homes in Navajo Nation

SALT LAKE CITY – A program from the University of Utah’s College of Architecture and Planning will build homes in the Navajo Nation. The program aims to bring sustainable and affordable housing to communities in San Juan County.

How the program works

DesignBuildUTAH is a graduate program in the university’s college of architecture and planning “focused on immersing students in hands-on cross-cultural experiences,” according to the program’s website.

There is a Bluff, Utah section of the program and a Salt Lake-focused section. [email protected] focuses on work in the Navajo Nation. The program’s website states that students engage in hands-on design and construction opportunities. The program has been in existence since 2004.

The next home building project in the Navajo Nation comes with challenges. The university said students will need to consider that most construction sites in the Navajo Nation have no running water or electricity. The students will build houses that take into account the needs and the environment of the beneficiaries.

“We focus on eco-friendly and affordable homes in a place with many challenges,” said Atsushi Yamamoto, program instructor.

Students in the program completed “Project Horseshoe” in December 2021; an expandable house with a greenhouse and a box that would allow owners to plug in a generator or solar panels.

Yamamoto recalled the achievements of “Project Horseshoe” when discussing the difficult location in which the students will build.

The university said [email protected] focuses on sustainability and prioritizes meeting “the region’s unique social, cultural and environmental needs.”

The students of the program will visit the premises before starting the design phase. The design phase will take place in the summer and the construction will take place from September to November. The university said the students will live in Bluff, Utah during the construction phase

Who gets new Navajo Nation homes?

The home recipients were chosen based on recommendations for funding from the Utah Navajo Trust, the Navajo Revitalization Fund and local chapters, according to the university.

In order for the beneficiaries of the houses to be able to connect with the students, the beneficiaries have taken online courses for the past two years.

The university described the “Sweat Equity” concept that students use when building. The students will allow the beneficiaries to participate in the construction process.

“We aim to provide learning opportunities not only for our architecture students, but also for home-based beneficiaries,” Yamamoto said. “The students have completed the essential parts of the construction, and since we have worked together with the beneficiaries, they are confident that they will complete the rest of the work on their new home. »


In 2021, the Horseshoe project required 12 weeks of work on site, or more than 5,000 hours. Most of the materials were purchased with funds donated by the Navajo Revitalization Fund. The remaining materials were donated by Big-D Construction, Mountain Fiber Insulation and JRC Lighting.

Over the years, donors such as the Sorenson Legacy Foundation have helped [email protected] become one of the top programs in the nation, focusing on sustainable housing with a sweat equity model.

“We are proud to support the work of [email protected],” said Lisa Meiling, Executive Director of the Sorenson Legacy Foundation. “This program is a true example of the best of humanity, using our talents and resources to uplift others. We seek projects that empower people to be empowered and empowered. of construction, we believe that these houses will be maintained and improved for a long time.

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