Architecture + Design

Chances are, the word “shelter” means something different to you now than it did two months ago. While our childhood notions of the word conjure visions of lean-tos and pup tents, 2020’s definition is a little more modern and a whole lot more of a wakeup call. It seems that the spaces we call “home”—besides simply being where we hang our hats, hang our photos, and hang with our loved ones—offer us something that until very recently we’d been taking entirely for granted. They shelter us.

According the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, “shelter” is right there at the base of the pyramid as one of our most essential human necessities. Our homes protect us from the elements. They keep us warm in winter and shaded in summer, and they’re also, apparently, the perfect place in which to wait out a global pandemic. As most of us are scrambling to put Maslow’s pyramid back together again (see: Humpty Dumpty), there seems to be a whole lot of “looking inward” going on around us—not only within the lifelong roommate that is oneself, but within our spaces and, we sincerely hope, within this little, global community called humankind. And since we’re on the topic of shelter and human beings doing good deeds for other human beings, and since we’re all so very hungry for good content and pretty pictures, we’d like to invite you to turn off the news, kick back, pour a glass, and dive into a very delicious Place of Worship.

Welcome to Silver Slice.

This geometrically captivating home is the handiwork of DesignBuildBLUFF (DBB), the University of Utah’s architecture program that allows students to, over the course of few semesters, design and build a home for a family in need. Operating within the Rural and Native communities in the Utah Four Corners, DBB has overseen the construction of over 20 homes (we've featured a few of them here and here). According to the 2011 Navajo Housing Authority’s “Housing Needs Assessment and Demographic Analysis,” 39% of tribal members suffer from overcrowding in their homes, and more than half of them occupy structures that are either “dilapidated or require serious repairs.” DBB aims to offer more than a bandaid in this regard. “We take a holistic approach to home delivery, whereby the construction of housing becomes synonymous with the reconstruction of a healthful and resilient community,” says the organization. In short, apart from providing a home for someone in need, the construction of these DBB-designed structures is an economic activity with benefits that remain in the Nation. Says former instructor Jose Galarza, “Mostly I want architecture students in any course to think of the problem of building to not be strictly form focused. It’s socio-political. It is a system. [I’d hope for them to] have fun and gain some self-awareness.”

Silver Slice was built for Brenda, a proud new grandmother and a Navajo woman. Having experienced homelessness in the past, the value Brenda placed on the idea of “home” was immeasurable. She wanted not only a place of her own but one in which to gather her family—a place for all of her pieces. DBB, doing what they do best, factored in not only the needs of Brenda but those required by the land surrounding the site. The home is inside the flood zone of the nearby San Juan River, so it had to be raised off the ground. To combat corrosion, a Galvalume metal was used on the exterior. Brenda needed views of the neighboring cliffs and a visibly accessible play loft, so she could keep an eye on the kids when they’re visiting (its skylight provides northern light as well as the possibility to passively cool the house through venting). The wall supporting the primary roof ridge “slices” the home in half, separating private spaces from public ones (as well as extending the rafter line and increasing the usable space inside). While the exterior’s form is primarily focused on function, the interior is a soothing balm of earthy tones and sturdy, weighted materials balanced by light and open space. Finishes include natural plasters, salvaged aluminum sheets, and an acrylic louver made from half-inch 3form panels in a steel frame. The design is efficient, clean, and modern in its minimalism, but, as you’ll see in these photos, this team of architects in no way sacrificed where warmth and durability are concerned.

As it stands now, Silver Slice is a stunning work of design and craftsmanship. It’s all at once peaceful, warm, inviting, and strong (a little, we suspect, like Brenda, herself). We applaud the architecture students of DBB—as well as all those who made Silver Slice possible—for another home well done.

The world can be a scary, complicated place.
All we can hope for is a place of our own in which to weather the storm.

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