Sweet Caroline House (2006) DesignBuildBluff

Objective: Design and build a house for a single mother, Caroline, and her 10-year-old daughter, Audrey, and for the frequent visits by her two grown children attending Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colo.

Caroline and her family had been living in a single room inside a (from our perspective) dilapidated old government issue, rickety stick-frame box for the past four years, where she cared for her elderly parents, both of whom suffer from diabetes and need to be driven an hour and a half to Cortez three times a week for dialysis treatment. When asked what kind of house they’d like, Caroline responded that she’d been thinking about it for years, and that something evoking some semblance of her Navajo cultural tradition.

Solution: The final design features a home that attempts to straddle both worlds: a semi-circular, earthen (and lime) plastered, hogan- esque great room with fin-like structural walls opening axis views to Caroline’s tree-lined garden and the slickrock hills she combed as a child, complete with an aspen wood ceiling carried by lodgepole pine beams simulating the traditional corbels; and then the more rectilinear, Anglo-inspired bedroom wing with indoor plumbing, all of it wood-framed and clad with new-tech, cementitious Hardiboard on the exterior, and Baltic birch ply inside. This latter side faces south, and it is enclosed entirely by a series of glass doors recycled from a former pool enclosure trailered down from Salt Lake City. Inside rises a beautifully striated red clay rammed earth wall, with windows blocked out and framed by welded plate steel – Trombe wall with a view. The other horizontal windows to the east and west of each of the bedrooms might as well be paintings, paintings that are purchased with painter included, as the colors range the entire spectrum in a diurnal dance. The two cultures integrate in an east/west corridor that bifurcates the home, including the requisite east facing entrance, one wall direct and the other slightly curved. There’s also a sandstone slab floor demarcating the circle of life, and the central hearth, a fire-orb hanging from the ceiling, able to be turned 360 degrees, one single central focus that combines both cultures in a perfect yin and yang expression (we only wish we knew the Navajo equivalent of that expression of all essence).

The three major masonry walls were built with Flexcrete blocks, a product made with fibrous aggregate (and hence one-fifth the weight of concrete), flyash (the byproduct of coal-burning electric plants) and other “secret sauces” (their technical term) made in nearby Page, Ariz., and now owned entirely by the Navajo Housing Authority. By the way, it also insulates to R-24 for eight inches. Icynene foam, another green product, water-based, open-celled, invented in Canada, was sprayed into the ceiling and framed walls. The southern, slightly butterflied roof funnels water back toward the center of the house and through the fifteen foot Flexcrete demarcation wall to where it pitches down the neutral center shed roof into a copper gutter, downspout and through sand filters into a 2,000-plus gallon cistern buried to the west.

Source: From the architect’s applicaton submitted to the The American Institute of Architects.

Red Mesa Chapter Navajo Reservation - Utah Corridor

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