House Tour: The Art and Science of a Desert-Ready Home

The climate of Monument Valley—a famed desert region of the West—informed virtually all the design decisions leading up to the new Skow Residence, perhaps the most architecturally daring home in the Navajo Nation.

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  1. Second Thoughts

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    Harold Skow, a member of the Navajo Nation, leased a parcel of land, where he planned to live with his family, in a kit home like others nearby. He and his wife built the foundation before deciding they didn't like the type of house that the kit was intended to build. For assistance, Skow reached out to the University of Colorado Building Workshop.

    Jesse Kuroiwa

  2. Challenge Accepted

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    Eric Sommerfield, director of the Worskshop, traveled to Bluff, Utah, with a group of students to survey the site. At Skow's invitation, the architecture students set out to devise a new design that could be realized using only the materials Skow already had—wood, roofing shingles, and siding meant for an entirely different house style.

    Jesse Kuroiwa

  3. The Big Idea

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    Skow gave the students a tour. "He was wearing a big sombrero," Sommerfield remembers. "He looked at a student and said, 'You could use a sombrero.' The student looked back at him and said that his house could use a sombrero, too." That conversation led to the distinctive, sun hat-style roof that so defines the look and performance of the house.

    Jesse Kuroiwa

  4. Hat Trick

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    Sifting through the kit and its materials, the students found a set of roof trusses and hit upon the idea of inverting them. Turned upside down, the roof structure would function very much like a sombrero, creating generous shade to cool the house below. Of course, the unique roof also lends the house a sculptural shape seldom seen in the region.

    Jesse Kuroiwa

  5. Climate Consciousness

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    Below the roof, there are no superfluous features; climate considerations informed virtually every design decision leading up to the project's completion. For instance, glass comprises most of the south-facing exterior wall. And while the glazing affords views, it simultaneously performs the important role of maximizing heat gain from the winter sun.

    Jesse Kuroiwa

  6. Effectiveness, Affordably

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    "We just wanted the house to open up to the landscape and to be extremely efficient in its environment," Sommerfield says, recalling the goals that his team set out to achieve. Fortunately, his students were brimming with ideas. Here, you can see how the interior walls were insulated with straw bales—an effective and quite affordable solution.

    Jesse Kuroiwa

  7. At Home in the Desert

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    To enjoy the site's panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, the Skow family desire to have a front porch where they could sit in comfort and gaze out. Besides cooling the interior spaces, the dramatically overhanging roof goes a long way toward creating an outdoor living area shielded from the full force of the brutal sun.

    Jesse Kuroiwa

  8. For More...

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