The desert is a place of extremes. One of the reasons I love camping in the desert is that I feel more in touch with my surroundings and aware of the elements. I find the conditions demand attention.

The same goes for desert architecture. When done to minimize energy demand (or in some cases because homes are off the grid), the location and climate drive the design. To me, that and the budget concerns make the small homes the U of U’s Design-Build Bluff program especially interesting.

Above is a photo of a shade wall Design-Build Bluff created from reeds and found materials along a walking trail in Bluff by the San Juan River.

The need for shade also drove this home design in an area of the Navajo Nation near and to the west of the town of Blanding. The first photo shows how the elevated shipping container structure hovers over the steep hillside with a carport and shady storage beneath. The front elevation of the same home can be seen in the second photo.

This early Design-Build Bluff home insulates against both heat gain and heat loss with thick rammed-earth walls and metal to reflect the sun.

The interior of the same home demonstrates how the architects adapted the space for the homeowner’s wheelchair mobility. The stove burns found wood scraps and debris, and its sophisticated design retains and circulates heat.

With very little budget for new materials, Design-Build Bluff relies heavily upon donated, reclaimed, repurposed, and scavenged materials.  This home is located deep into tribal lands and accessed by barely passable dirt roads. Donated reflective glass makes up the exterior finish to reflect sun and cool the home. The actual small horizontal window is set within an array of panels.

Within the home, storage shelves accommodate supplies for the homeowner’s interests: painting, weaving, and her studies and research. One deep shelf serves as a sleeping platform.

Located on a high knoll subject to big winds, the Design-Build Bluff architects nestled this home behind a protective wall.

The opposite leeward side of the home features the entrance, carport, and patio.

Leaving Navajo land, CRSA (a Salt Lake architectural firm), designed accommodations for researchers visiting the Redd Ranch near Canyonlands to study the effects of climate change on rangeland as part of a Nature Conservancy project. The open-air pavilion is a place to congregate and dine. The structure at the far end houses cooking facilities.

Sleeping quarters for visiting researchers are canvas cabin tents on wooden platforms.

There are obvious technical issues for getting photographs when there are no electrical lights. I bring a large supply of battery-operated lights and a big flashlight-style handheld device for light painting, a technique more common in the past that I still find useful.

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