Designing for People and Place: Sustainable & Affordable Housing for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
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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 States1, the Pine Ridge reservation is also one of the largest reservations at 2.1 million acres2. Recently, the executive director of the Oglala Sioux Housing Authority observed that the reservation had 1,100 houses, but needs 4,0003.

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.


  1. U.S. Census

  2. Bureau of Indian Affairs

  3. Indian Country Today, April 17, 2013