Nakai House

  • Role:
    Designer / Contractor
  • Date:
    Summer / Fall 2011
  • Project Type:
  • Project Status:

DesignbuildBLUFF, a non-profit organization located in southeast Utah, works on the Indian reservation with Navajos in need of housing. In collaboration with DesignBuildBLUFF and CU Denver, during the summer of 2011, myself and 7 other students designed the house, and during the fall semester moved to Utah to build it ourselves.

The residence was constructed for Lorraine Nakai, a Navajo, academic and avid collector. With a tiny budget (only $25,000), limited time (80 days) and little to no construction experience, we were encouraged to reimagine the conventional notion of a house in order to squeeze the plan down to a meager 745 s.f.

Lorraine’s existing house shares the site with those of her two sisters, creating a natural longing for community that just isn’t satisfied by the current site configuration. With that in mind, we located the house in a way that creates an outdoor communal courtyard. The orientation also opens the home to the south to accept the cool breezes in the summer, while the length of the building shields the courtyard from the cold western winds in the winter.

In response to the geomorphology of the site, the corten roof gestures up to the tree on the northeast and the nearby hill to the southwest.  Recycled spandrel glass clads the house on three sides, creating an abstracted reflection of the site and the adjacent historic homes. This, along with the aged and natural look of the rusted metal and burnt cedar siding create a building that blends seamlessly into the wild and rural landscape.

In addition to the size restrictions, Lorraine’s multi-faceted lifestyle required a certain amount of flexible open space. With those things in mind, we distilled the house’s service spaces down to their most basic functions. The bedroom became little more than a nook, only slightly larger than the bed inside it. A spare room was formed out of the loft space above the bedroom nook, granting guests some privacy whilst preserving the s.f. on the ground level. Next to the bedroom nook sits a tiny bathroom,  the walls of which are made of waterproof plaster, negating the need for a separate shower enclosure.

Acting as a threshold between the service and flexible open space, an 8 foot tall bookcase showcases the client’s collection of books 50 feet down the length of the building. The bookcase terminates at the north end of the building where Lorraine’s reading nook cantilevers out under the site’s lone tree. The remainder of the floor plan creates a large 11’ wide x 50’ long flexible space beside the bookcase. The fireplace, an integral part of the Navajo culture, is the singular fixed element in this space, modestly dividing the living room, dining room and kitchen spaces from the work area and bedroom beyond.

Works On Display:
2014 – Grey Matter- materials, architecture and reuse, Nakai House, Pavillon de l’Arsenal, Paris, France
2013 – Shelter, Downtown Aurora Visual Arts Center, Aurora, Colorado
2013 – Solo Exhibit, American Institute of Architects National Convention, CU-Denver Design Build Work, CU Denver Building, Denver, CO
2013 – College of Architecture and Planning Exhibit, 16th Street Mall Exhibit, Denver, CO

2012 AIA Colorado Young Architect Awards, People’s Choice Award
2012 AIA Colorado Young Architect Awards, Built Architecture Honorable Mention
2014 Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture Design Build Award


New York Times

Dezeen Magazine

Fast.Co.Design Magazine

Mark Magazine


Public Interest Design

BIG Little Houses


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