Park City-based DesignBuildBLUFF expands |

Park City-based DesignBuildBLUFF expands


Park City architect Hank Louis has been doing his part to change the world, and recent changes will allow him to triple his efforts.

Since 2000, Louis has been leading University of Utah students in both designing and building projects.

Louis said he’s disenchanted with most methods of higher education that graduate students without teaching what they really need to know to be members of the profession. For example, they know how to operate a Computer-Aided Design program, but have no idea how something is actually built. Also, many students have dreams of becoming the next Frank Lloyd Wright but very few architects are privileged to do design, most must find their niche elsewhere, he said.

So Louis started a course in which students built things and eventually founded DesignBuildBLUFF, a not-for-profit group giving school credit for building homes for members of the Navajo Nation.

Until this month, the organization supported the College of Architecture + Planning, but Louis has worked out a way to include more schools, more students, and build more houses and it requires the schools to support him.

Instead of setting aside funding for administrative costs, participants in his program from the University of Colorado, the University of New Mexico and the University of Utah will pay him tuition, which will cover administration.

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Now every penny raised through fundraising will go toward the home getting built, he said.

Ginger Tolman, formerly with the Park City Performing Arts Foundation and the Mountainlands Community Housing Trust, has been hired as executive director to head up fundraising for the enlarged program and coordinate organizing the three schools at Bluff, Utah.

Previously, eight University of Utah graduate students were accepted into the Spring Semester program. With the Navajo Housing Authority the students selected a family to help, then designed a home that met their needs and during spring semester they would live in Bluff and construct the home themselves.

The new program will accept 22 students from each school, and host the University of Colorado during fall semester and New Mexico students during summer. If everything goes according to plan, DesignBuildBLUFF could theoretically begin constructing six houses a year.

The program and the students’ homes have won numerous industry awards. The University of Utah was receiving applications to the graduate program from students who wanted to study in Utah to work with him, he said.

When he approached the other two schools about getting involved, Louis said they were already familiar with the program and wanted to get involved right away a year earlier than he envisioned even, Louis said.

Tolman said her background promoting both the Humanities and housing issues has prepared her for this position.

"Housing organically affects so many other angles," she said. "It brings so much to the community and to the students. The impact is huge, and frankly, a little under-rated."

Tolman will be writing grant applications and working toward making the program as big as it can be.

"DesignBuildGLOBAL is what I see," she said.

The program does more than give students experience, Louis explained. Because the Navajo reservation lacks utilities, the homes must be built to function "off the grid." Most are designed with passive-solar lighting and heating and water-catchment facilities.

So in addition to helping a needy family, the projects give students the opportunity to implement "green" and sustainable practices.

"In all aspects of education, people are looking for more real-world, hands-on experiences. Design+Build is catching fire. Students are clamoring for it," he said. "Using alternative building methods and materials is fun."

A brochure for the program says the program’s mission is "to not only build a home, but to build hope." That’s key for Louis in the educational aspects of the program.

"I want them coming out of architecture school not thinking to make a $100 million, but to be compassionate," he said.

Louis said he can envision a day where alumni run their own programs in places like Guatamala and Uganda.

DesignBuildBLUFF is always seeking monetary donations, but also appreciates donated building materials as well as donated labor.

Next week 3Form, one of their corporate sponsors, is sending staff to Bluff to help with some physical labor as spring semester students finish their current project. Groups of people willing to lend a hand are always appreciated, he said.

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