The University Record, February 18, 1998

CAUP students develop designs for Lakota Nation

Members of Craig Scott's graduate studio, 'Sinte Gleska University: Mirroring, Scaling, Nesting . . . Investigations toward Inhabiting the Lakota Landscape,' critique models prepared by the class. Photo by Bob Kalmbach


By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

From numerology to traditional systems of movement and rest, students in the College of Architecture and Urban Planning (CAUP) are learning about and incorporating the traditions of the Lakota into housing designs for a new university campus in Antelope, S. Dak.

Under the guidance of California-based U-M graduate and architect Clark Stevens, CAUP students have been working to solve the housing shortage on the Rosebud Reservation and the Sinte Gleska University campus, operated by the Lakota Nation. Chartered in 1971, Sinte Gleska's new campus is evolving over a period of several years, with construction by its staff, students and community members in collaboration with a Native American contractor, Shingobee Builders. The university's vocational education faculty organized some of the projects utilizing conventional practices and locally available materials, such as timbers, straw and earth for sustainable design practices.

Also involved in the project are Stevens' business partner Michael Rotondi of Roto Architects and Craig Scott, a visiting assistant professor of architecture.

U-M students have traveled to South Dakota to meet with members of the Lakota Nation and to better understand the terrain and cultural impact of the project. They are focusing on creating housing designs based on traditional Lakota use of space, holding to the traditional values and practices of the Lakota Nation.

Through a brief but "total immersion" with the Lakotas, the students have gathered site histories and developed a cultural knowledge of the people and their kinship relations. Each student has chosen a particular Lakota ritual to investigate as a basis for integrating the landscape and culture in their designs. Through their on-site experiences, the students are also able to bring new ideas adapted from other geographical regions to the university in South Dakota.

"The U-M students are learning by spending time there and participating in the community," Stevens says. "Working with a professional organization on a meaningful project is a positive process for them. It is important for the students to spend time with the people and the landscape of the Lakota community, both to dispel any romantic preconceptions about Native Americans, as well as to recognize the opportunities of the place and the resourcefulness of its people. The reservation brings into focus the fact that human systems and building technology should be employed with balance and restraint.

"The approach that the design studio took," Stevens adds, "was to look for values and abstract systems of order inherent in the reality of the place, not to act as preservationists of some Disney ideal, but to look at the contemporary conditions and find links to traditional, organic and integrated systems of values."