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Rosie Joe House to Receive AIA Award this Weekend

Rammed earth walls are comprised of compressed sand and clay dug and sifted onsite.

August 26, 2005 — A home University of Utah architecture graduate students built for Rosie Joe and her family in Bluff, Utah, a small town located in the San Juan River Valley, is receiving yet another award. On Saturday, Hank Louis, University College of Architecture + Planning (CA+P) adjunct professor, will accept an award from The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Western Mountain Region (WMR) at an awards banquet at the Arizona Biltmore Resort.

The AIA Western Mountain Region Design Awards program recognizes excellence in design, planning and construction of projects located anywhere in the world that are designed by AIA/WMR architects registered and licensed within the six-state region. The intent of the design awards program is to honor the highest standard of design in response to user requirements, site, context, climate and environment. Each entry, regardless of size or classification, is judged individually on the basis of overall design merit.

Eight U architecture students built the Rosie Joe house, spring semester of 2004, according to their own design with assistance from the Utah Development Corporation, Dennis Caulfield Construction, a handful of experts and several former CA+P students. Louis led the CA+P Design Build Studio course as well as obtained permits and secured donated materials and funds.

The site, located in southwestern Utah, is 273 miles from Salt Lake City and can be reached by traveling 16 miles south of Bluff, on Highway 191, then five miles east on San Juan County Road 443.

The architecture work with the American Indians in San Juan County is part of the CA+P’s Design Build Studio. Students receive practical, hands-on experience implementing their design work, assisting with planning and zoning, learning about construction site safety and working with community agencies and private donors. Students learn about affordability, energy-efficiency and sustainability of materials. Louis hopes the program will eventually be more akin to Auburn University’s intensive Rural Studio program, established by the late Samuel Mockbee, with whom Louis worked.

Rosie Joe’s Bluff house is built of an old, but more recently used, energy-efficient material known as rammed earth. The 18-inch thick walls are made from compressed sand and clay dug and sifted onsite. The south wall is comprised of windows of all sizes that the students found, collected and installed. The roof is welded re-bar that butterflies into the air to become a water catchment system. Some interior walls are finished with clear acrylic, revealing packed, loose straw insulation. Interior dividing walls are faced with discarded road and highway signs, scavenged sheet metal and patina flashing metal. “In such a remote area, nothing can be thrown away-everything is overtaxed, with embodied energy,” says Hank Louis. The ceiling is made of begged wood pallets, the gaps covered by neutral-colored canvas.

The University students left behind family and friends and moved to Bluff for all of spring semester to build the house they designed fall semester. They lived in “dorms”-Louis’ 1905 historic sandstone home.

Bluff’s rural location brought challenges to Louis’ students’ most recent project-extreme heat and cold and no electrical power for tools. They faced the additional challenge of maintaining their other course work.

The Bluff Design Build Studio Program continued this past spring with the creation and construction of another house. For more information on the AIA Western Mountain Region Awards Ceremony, the Design Build Studio Bluff program and the Rosie Joe house, contact Hank Louis 801-557-4987.