Posted Date: February 12, 2014
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Designing for People and Place: Sustainable & Affordable Housing for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

A University of Colorado Boulder (CU) service-learning program, funded by HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R), is bringing stakeholders and students together to offer the Oglala Lakota Nation viable models of sustainable, energy-efficient housing. The Oglala Lakota of the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota face some daunting odds. Located in the second poorest per capita county in the United States, the Pine Ridge reservation is also one of the largest reservations at 2.1 million acres. Recently, the executive director of the Oglala Sioux Housing Authority observed that the reservation had 1,100 houses, but needs 4,000.

Despite these challenges, Rob Pyatt, director of the CU Native American Sustainable Housing Initiative (NASHI), has found a resilient culture. “Lakota culture is based on the idea of sustainability, and a deep respect for the natural environment,” he said in describing the values that tribal members brought to the service-learning program Designing for People and Place: Sustainable & Affordable Housing for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Last spring, CU students and faculty in the Program in Environmental Design collaborated with the Oglala Lakota College and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology to conduct design charrettes with Pine Ridge residents and design four homes — each featuring different construction materials and methods.

The housing design emphasizes energy efficiency in sustainable materials, as an alternative to the conventional wood-frame houses found throughout Pine Ridge. The homes are designed to be net-zero energy (producing more energy over the course of a year than they use) through cost-effective passive strategies like natural ventilation and passive solar orientation combined with more expensive active renewable energy systems, such as photovoltaic panels, solar thermal hot water, and wind turbines. All four homes were designed using the LEED for Homes rating system criteria.

The first model house, a straw-bale construction, got underway this past summer. The three other models are expected to be built using structural insulated panels, optimized wood frame, and compressed earth block.

For more information, please contact Mike Blanford at


PD&R Grantee Is Awarded Prize

The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) has awarded an Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) Sustainable Construction in Indian Country grantee an ACSA/ American Institute of Architects Housing Design Education Award: Excellence in Housing Education Course or Activity. Designing People and Place: Sustainable and Affordable Housing for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is a project of the University of Colorado Boulder (CU), directed by Rob Pyatt; it was funded in part by PD&R.

This award recognizes the critical role of housing design education in shaping architects into leaders and contributors, ready to practice in a wide range of areas and in a variety of communities. The Designing People and Place project is a service learning initiative under the CU Native American Sustainable Housing Initiative (NASHI). Over the course of two semesters, the project brings together students from three colleges and universities and Pine Ridge reservation stakeholders in a design charrette, housing design, and architecture build. A straw-bale house was designed and built in the summer of 2013. The project anticipates completing four model houses, which will use different sustainable materials and designs that CU will test for energy efficiency.

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