2020 Annual Report DesignBuildBLUFF

What we do?

DesignBuildBLUFF offers students an immersive hands-on opportunity to design and build a full-scale work of architecture in collaboration with the Navajo people. We emphasize sustainability and respect for the unique social, cultural, and environmental needs of the region. Students are encouraged to explore alternative building methods, natural and recyclable materials, and innovative solutions drawn from elements both physically and economically within our reach.

Table of contents

  1. DBB's Guiding Principles
  2. Activities in 2020
  3. Vison for the Future

DesignBuildBLUFF's Guiding Principles


Learn and live together. DBB is a safe and nurturing environment to make and build lifelong friendships.
  • Enjoy the outdoors, camping and hiking
  • Live together and learn together to build camaraderie through the production of the building project
  • Provide spaces for creating
  • Plan events for gathering

DesignBuildBLUFF's Guiding Principles


DBB invites students of all identities, abilities, and places into the experience of hands-on education. We seek to foster a culture where each person is encouraged, supported, and celebrated in a positive learning environment.
  • Work with home recipients, volunteers, supporters, friends, and family
  • Attend the local elementary school's after-school program to mentor kids and get them excited about architecture and construction
  • Collaborate with local vendors
  • Collaborate with other universities, locally and internationally
  • Activate the campus to provide a diversity of programming

DesignBuildBLUFF's Guiding Principles

3. Culture

DBB respects and is inspired by native and local connections to the natural environment.
  • Learn about the unique climate and plants landscape
  • Learn about Native American culture and history with their crafts.
  • Experiment with local earthen material
  • Think the element that increases the indigenous intent

DBB guiding principles (8 concepts)


DBB disseminates all our work in order to share best practices, learn from others, and receive feedback on how to improve.
  • Publish our work through social media platforms
  • Use feedback to improve programming
  • Attend public events as DBB representatives

DBB guiding principles (8 concepts)


DBB provides a variety of practicum-based experiences based in Bluff. DBB aims to provide a place of learning that benefits our architecture students, local communities.
  • Learning opportunity for all based on hand-on experience
  • Learn how to design and build a single-family residence in a remote desert landscape
  • Learn how to communicate with home recipients, donors, engineers, subcontractors, and volunteers
  • Design a house anyone can build
  • Use the material that easy access and build

DBB guiding principles (8 concepts)


DBB focuses on eco-friendly and affordable homes through local soil materials, recycled materials, fewer maintenance materials, and available materials.
  • Reduce energy carried out Rainwater collection, Water Filtration option, Toilet option
  • Reduce energy carried in Not high ceiling, Space- efficient, Live together, Outdoor gathering
  • Passive heating / cooling Insulation, thermal storage, Eave, opening (Use sunlight,shading effects), Landscape design, Ventilation
  • Reduce carbon footprint Construction material transportation, Recycle construction material, Local production
  • Longer lifespan house Easy Maintenance, Flexibility (Structure, Furniture), ADA

DBB guiding principles (8 concepts)


DBB would like to provide housing as a box but also aim for the designs to inspire the home recipient’s healthier lifestyle.
  • Design a home that inspired from the local nature, color, direction.
  • Design water collecting roof for garden farming.
  • Choose non-toxic finish materials like plaster finish.

DBB guiding principles (8 concepts)


DBB respects how the locals connect to this beautiful land and aim for designs inspired by it.
  • Design architecture that matches the landscape.
  • Inspiration from the local nature, color, directions.
  • Design a home where the home recipient can enjoy the beauty of the sun, moon, and stars.

staff voice

Atsushi Yamamoto Hiroko Yamamoto

We believe it is important how rich experience we can provide for our students. For this purpose, we are trying to keep moving forward and be flexible in a rapidly changing world while constantly correcting the course based on the feedback from the participants.

At the sametime, it is important to create an environment where the participant students can think independently and realize their ideas. For that, we believe the staff should be supporters for them and should respond flexibly to the participants' opinions, rather than the strong leadership.

In addition, we will keep organized everything in our daily activities to create a clean and creative environment. Also, we will improve the data platforms that will serve as a basis for free discussions.

Activities in 2020

  • Residential project in 2020 "FOUR PEAKS"
  • Annual budget in 2020
  • Annual schedule in 2020
  • Publishment in 2020
  • Collaborators in 2020

Residential project in 2020

  • Location: Teec Nos Pos, Utah
  • Photos: Janie Lin Photography

This single-family residence was produced in collaboration with the State of Utah Navajo Revitalization Fund and the Utah Navajo Trust Fund. Their homestead lease sits atop the White Mesa within the Teec Nos Pos chapter of the Navajo Nation. With few neighbors in sight, the small house is accompanied by a hogan, shed, and garden. Driving up to the house, the first sight you see is the unique roofline peaking over the hill. The iconic roofline became the name, Four Peaks. The name ‘Four Peaks’ was not only chosen because of the roofline but also as a nod to the four sacred mountains of the Navajo culture.

Flexibility as Design Equity

The concept of the project was developed from the themes of health, comfort, and flexibility. The homeowner, along with her two daughters, envisioned a place to call home. Ultimately, the design was focused on creating a space for each member of the family, while also staying within the concept of sweat equity. To follow a sweat equity model, we designed for ease of construction and expansion, so the structure is separated into four modules that are shifted or pulled into opposite directions. This allows for a natural partition of space and the ability to expand from North to South in the future.

Photo credits: Janie Lin Photography

The house is raised off the ground onto CMU blocks for several reasons. The site contains many feet of soft, fine sand that covers sandstone. To avoid dunes building up along the house and a slab cracking from shifting sand, the entire house was raised, which will also make expanding the foundation easier. Due to the distance of the site from the main roads, concrete trucks could not easily visit the site. As a result, the foundation system was designed to contain as little concrete as possible.

The exterior is clad in galvanized corrugated metal siding and cedar. Depending on where you stand, different materials are highlighted or given more focus.

The interior of the house maintains a neutral palette to make spaces feel larger. Built-ins are made of pine plywood to balance the strong black and white modernism of other elements in the house. Open shelving in the kitchen was made from threaded rods found in a scrap pile. The benchtops were made from scrap pieces of LVL glued together and sanded down. Students custom-designed the countertops, shelves, inner window trims, and even the dining table out of 3Form, thanks to 3Forms generous material donations.

The plaster wall design features were particularly rewarding because of the opportunity to bring the landscape inside. The natural plaster walls were made from the soil on site and holds personal meaning for the homeowner, whose father grew up on the land and whose memories and legacy can now be a witness in their daily lives.

The wood-burning stove is the sole source of heat in this 800 sq foot home, which is critical due to its remote location and distance from services. At this time, the house is not connected to a source of electricity. Through the Cares Act, funding is being used to get electricity and water to as many homes as possible.

Design Concept : "Module"

The house was designed on a modular system, units of 12’x16’. These sizes were dictated by what could be carried by a trailer to the site. Four foot increments were used in the design to make the best use of material that was sold in standard sizes. Four modules were determined and were all that could be completed by DesignBuildBLUFF within the timeline and budget. The house contains three bedrooms, a living room, pantry, mudroom, and kitchen/ dining.

One key feature is that the house is raised off the ground onto CMU blocks. The site contains several feet of soft, fine sand that covers sandstone. In order to avoid dunes building up along the house and a slab cracking from shifting sand, the entire house was raised. The family of the house knew that they would also want to expand in the future, making it an easy foundation system to add to. The site was far off main roads and would have been difficult for concrete trucks to come out, so the foundation system was designed to contain as little concrete as possible.

Project team
group photo at topping off party, Oct 2020
  • Students Allii Castillo, Angelica Fierro, Janie Lundgreen, Josh Christensen, Logan Prete, Molly Schmidt, Mykala Rogers, Perry Martin, Sam Lieske, Sharon Rivas, Tyler Kimmel, Veneisse Sitjar
  • Student adovocate Adrienne Caesar
  • Volunteers Becca Lieske, Fred Lieske, Jeff Mansfield, Nicki Luthanen, Alex Drungil, Amanda Bevington-Drungil, Alyssa Ahrens, Malyssa Egge
  • Consutant Paul McMullin - Structural Engineer, Norman Lameman - Electrician, John Nakai-Inspect (UNTF)
  • Founding supporter Navajo Revitalization Fund Board, AmeriCorps
  • Donor Big-D Construction, Craig Prete, Dana & Loney Lundgreen, JRC Lighting, Mountain Fiber Insulation, Lacem Construction Inc., Rustic Lumber, Timothy and Claire Martin, 3Form
  • Instructors Atsushi Yamamoto, Hiroko Yamamoto
Project schedule

In our schedule, the summer design semester which includes from the schematic design to the construction document was all online in the 2020 summer. The same students moved to Bluff at the end of August and we had a construction semester in the fall semester. Our total construction schedule is about 60 days and you can see the details here.

Project budget

Here is the break down the total project cost. About 70 % of the total was supported by NRF (Navajo Revitalization Fund Board), and the rest of 30 % was in-kind donation (material). The project cost does not include any infrastructure hook-up fees (water, septic, power). Generally, at the Navajo Reservation, a homeowner can apply for infrastructures after it is acknowledged that they have a home building.

Earthen Material explore experience "from ground to finish"

The students explore the southwest with their eyes and hands, especially the Utah Four Corners region, through journals and sketches. In particular, we insight deep into the earthen material, which is a local material, and through various activities, learn colors, textures, and properties, transform the raw materials into building finish materials, and rediscover their value of the material.

Annual Budget

As a response to COVID 19, the student room, which used to be a shared room, has been changed to a private room.

Annual Schedule

Publishment & Media

Collaborators in 2020

Naats’iilid Inititative

Nááts'íilid Initiative is a nonprofit organization established in 2020. Our mission is to strengthen the culture and economic resilience of Dinétah through self-reliance initiatives in the build environment.

The origins of Nááts'íilid Initiative can be traced back to Spring 2016 when DesignBuildBLUFF was approached by representatives of the Dennehotso Chapter Sweat Equity Project to design a prototype house that Navajo families could possibly build themselves. This collaboration was a success resulting in the design and construction of a modest single-family home, called the Lone Tree Project.

In the future DesignBuildBLUFF will continue to conduct case studies of design and construction. Naats’iilid Inititative will use these findings to improve and deliver this housing prototype on a larger scale. Our goal is to improve the housing situation on Navajo Nation by this exchange of feedback. We believe that having the Navajo community at the center will have a greater impact.

In the future DesignBuildBLUFF will continue to conduct case studies of design and construction. Naats’iilid Inititative will use these findings to improve and deliver this housing prototype on a larger scale. Our goal is to improve the housing situation on Navajo Nation by this exchange of feedback. We believe that having the Navajo community at the center will have a greater impact.

Yestermorrow Design/Build School

Yestermorrow Design/Build School was founded and headquartered in Waitsfield, VT since 1980. Our mission is to inspire people to create a better, more sustainable world by providing hands-on education that integrates design and craft as a creative, interactive process.

Yestermorrow offers classes in Land & Community Planning, Whole Structure Design/Build, Building Systems & Building Science and Woodworking & Craft. Our intensive, hands-on courses are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country for people of all ages and experience levels, from novice to professional.

Beginning in 2020 Yestermorrow will be expanding their programming to the Bluff campus. We aim to highlight building techniques and crafts that are relevant and unique to the Four Corners region. Additionally the campus will continue to invite community members and local organizations to utilize its facilities as a venue for meetings and a resource for engagement. Ultimately the Bluff campus will be activated year-round.

3. For the future

From 2020, Nááts'íilid Initiative was newly established and we had a campus agreement with Yestermorrow. As a result, we have more staff numbers in Bluff and we are expecting the future collaboration project together. By exchanging various opinions, and interacting with each activity, we will activate the Bluff campus.

By revitalizing the Bluff Campus, we would like to consider a more attractive program and plan to reach more people with the impact of our activities. Specifically, we are thinking of such a vision for program management, utilization of Bluff Campus, and projects for the next five years.

Challenges in 5years
  • Gathering / renovate the campus to make the creative space
  • Gathering / alumni event
  • Diversity / activate the Bluff campus ( 1 houseing project (DBB), and 2 small projects) to provide the variety programs
  • Diversity / increase the local collabration with schools and veders
  • Diversity / recruiting motivated studentsalways
  • Diversity / run kids DBB
  • Culture / increase activities to rediscover the value of local earthem material
  • Export / one publishment, booklet, thesis /year
  • Export / improve program formats
  • Export / social media
  • Ecology / off grid housing (homeowner can move in the house imidiately after DBB leave)
  • Education / staff education ( Learn the world's topics from others, such as community engagement, design justice, equity.)
  • Education / one copied project by Nattili Initiative


Hiroko Yamamoto Born in Nagoya, Japan, she studied architecture and received her Master of Architecture from the Koba University. She worked with Kinya Maruyama on design-build workshops for several years before joining DesignBuildBLUFF. Hiroko Yamamoto is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Utah and runs the DesignBuildBLUFF program in partnership with her husband Atsushi Yamamoto.Her research focuses on the hands-on program as architectural education and the influence on the local community. Also, she focuses on the regional building materials and methods including earthen building techniques.

Atsushi Yamamoto From Tokyo, Japan. Bachelor of Engineering in Waseda University. Studied Architecture at the College of Architecture + Planning. Staff of DesignBuildBLUFF since 2009.

Adrienne Caesar, From Massachusetts, she received her Bachelor of Science in Architecture from Roger Williams University. She has managed commercial and residential construction projects nationally and now focuses her efforts in pursuit of hands-on building and socially-focused projects. She came to Design Build BLUFF as a volunteer builder last year attracted by their implementation of natural materials. She now works on building capacity for sweat equity housing projects on Navajo Nation with the newly-established Nááts'íilid Initiative.

Molly Schmidt, From Illinois, is a dynamic designer and business development professional with 10 years experience leading social impact initiatives worldwide. Most recently, Molly led business development at MASS Design Group while working towards her Master of Architecture at Boston Architectural College. She came to Design Build Bluff as a volunteer builder and stayed to complete her thesis about the role of architecture in community development. She passionate about the power of design education to bring together ecosystems of opportunity among diverse groups of people. She is skilled in passive house and low-fabrication technology construction. Her colleagues would describe her as an expert culture builder, inspired by powering people and organizations towards a radical model of social justice practice.

Created By
Hiroko Yamamoto