Final Studio Project by Leslee Kirkham and Naima Nawabi
Project 2007 - Benally
The beginning point for designing this home was the "central hearth", which in Navajo culture is traditionally an exterior
fire pit; a family and community gathering place. After we designated this area (with an X drawn in the earth), mere steps from
the breathtaking sweep of the red bluff that rises behind the Benally lot, we drew lines from the pit itself connecting each of
the four sacred mountains from the Navajo Creation Story. The pie-shaped parapet walls were then designed on these lines in four
forms, with the pitch of the roof wrapping around the walls. They are wide open, allowing easy access to all 1100 square feet of
the Hogan-shaped home.
Once the building process began, we decided that the interior walls would be hand-made adobe brick, chosen for its ready
availability and insulating properties. Icynene foam, a green, water-based, open-celled product, insulates the roof and the
three framed walls; donated birch-veneered plywood covers these same walls. Various pipes and metal pieces discarded and salvaged
from commercial construction sites in surrounding urban areas serve as supportive interior columns. The floor was left the bare
concrete foundation, and sealed.
A river rock trombe wall (rocks hand moved from the San Juan river to the building site by the students) runs the length
of the main bedroom. The trombe wall provides whole-house solar heat on winter evenings. Raw cork found in a local elementary
school dumpster covers the ceilings. The Benally home is the first built by DesignBuildBLUFF with availability to electricity,
so we were able to install a donated radiant floor heating system, which was a fantastic learning experience for the students.
The casing for the exterior evolved into un-galvanized corrugated metal,
found at the local gravel pit/dump and pounded flat by the students to conform
to the round shape. Rusted mesh found at the same pit serve as soffit. Discarded
rubber tires, collected from the land on the Reservation, form a courtyard that
greets visitors at the front of the home. Finally, the central hearth fire pit
was constructed from a giant inverted funnel salvaged from, again, the local