August 2014

UNM Institute Helps Native Communities Address Design Challenges


Carolyn Gonzáles


In the three short years since the Indigenous Design + Planning Institute (iD+Pi) was established at the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning (UNM SAAP), the institute’s faculty, staff and students have completed two major projects: one at Ysleta del Sur, and the other at Nambé Pueblo. Additionally, a project for New Mexico Main Street at Zuni is in final draft form, and a comprehensive master plan for Taos Pueblo is just a few months from completion.


The need for iD+Pi’s services is matched only by the desire of the institute to meet community needs. Under the leadership of Ted Jojola, distinguished professor and Regents’ professor of Community and Regional Planning, iD+Pi is making inroads with indigenous communities in New Mexico and beyond.


The Navajo Nation


We are in the midst of negotiating a service contract with the Navajo Nation that will serve as a template for future projects,” Jojola said, noting that approval is expected by September. That doesn’t mean, however, that Jojola is waiting for the ink to dry before actively engaging Navajo communities. “We are working on a Chaco Canyon assessment plan. We are in contact with chapters in the area to look at the economic development potential that tourism provides in the area,” he said.


At Cochiti Pueblo, iD+Pi is developing a plaza-preservation plan. Amanda Montoya, iD+Pi program specialist from Taos Pueblo, said that they developed an architecture and children’s program by “training the trainers”—in this case, teachers who work with children. “They learned to talk to the children about plaza revitalization and helped them express what they want to see in their plaza,” she said.


A Keres language component was included, which was a challenge because the language is not written. Jojola said that during a debrief with Kevin Lewis, Cochiti Pueblo education director, they learned of the disconnect between abstract architectural terms and the scope of the Keres language. A wonderful thing happened. “It provoked conversation. It caused the summer staff and kids to talk to their parents and their parents’ parents about the words and phrases that are true to the native language, rather than adaptations like the word ‘ventana,’ which is the word for window borrowed from Spanish,” Jojola said. “The project captured a lost part of the language through these buildings. It brought up values, meanings and symbolism that was unexpected,” he said. During the Cochiti Summer Youth Language Program, children started learning other words in Keres. “They explored the language beyond colors and food. It allowed abstract-minded kids an opportunity to grow in the language,” Jojola said. And whereas before, the children looked at the plaza with disdain, wondering why old buildings weren’t torn down, now they wanted to know why they couldn’t be rebuilt.


Montoya said that Cochiti Pueblo is working with Tony Atkin of Atkin Olshin Schade Architects (AOS) in Santa Fe on the historic village area. “They asked iD+Pi to hold community meetings to get feedback on the way they want to revitalize the plaza.”

Jojola said an exhibit will be developed and displayed in the post office. It will show the findings from AOS, which will be useful for upcoming community meetings. “The goal is to develop consensus on restoration of the plaza area.”


Nambé Pueblo or Nanbé Owingeh


What started as a request from the National Park Service to assess the condition of the buildings around the Nambé plaza became much more. “If no intervention takes place in the next 10 years, the buildings will be gone. The adobe is destabilized because of moisture. To understand why the degradation occurred, iD+Pi had to look at social, physical and cultural causes, ”Jojola said.


Nambe redesign 2 Nambe redesign 1


Nambé has a rich agricultural history. Fields were cultivated around and adjacent to the plaza. “The life of the community was growing crops that provided for the community,” said Jojola. Students used aerial imagery to reveal the extent of agricultural land use in and around the pueblo. “Over the course of history, especially after World War II when they went to a wage economy, the infrastructure that supported agriculture declined,” Jojola said.


Nambé ancestors were adept at using a ditch network to divert surface water to fields and away from the plaza. “After the people stopped planting, the ditches weren’t maintained. The main road that went into the plaza became an inadvertent watershed,” Jojola said. The runoff traveled along the roadway and straight toward the plaza. Montoya added, “It is eroding the traditional plaza buildings.” It is clear that the ditches need to be reestablished for drainage before work can be done on the buildings. “Ultimately, farming projects need to come back to the plaza,” Jojola said.


iD+Pi also created three, three-dimensional models of Nambé: past, present and future. “Those models are to be the centerpiece of a new museum at Nambé. Nambé Pueblo is working with the IAIA [Institute of American Indian Arts] on that,” Montoya said.


Another challenge for Nambé is that the sense of ownership has changed. “Yards, fences and barriers affect the communal nature of the plaza. Building consensus is harder now,” Jojola said.


Planners Plan


As leaders of a growing, vital institute within UNM, Jojola, Montoya and their collaborators are hard at work on a strategic plan that will guide them. “We engaged all our affiliates—tribal, academic, student and professional,” said Jojola. “We brought in people from Ysleta del Sur and Nambé to get feedback on their experiences with iD+Pi. They established strategic directions that guide them to strengthen their core identity, widen the circle and share the knowledge.”


Their greatest challenge is financial resources. They plan to go the State Legislature again next year, working with UNM’s priorities, as well as those of the Native American Caucus. And they know there are people out there who recognize iD+Pi’s good work and want to be a part of it. They can visit: to donate.



Carolyn Gonzáles is a senior communications representative at UNM. Among the topics she writes about are architecture, planning and ethnic studies.





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