Naperville architect designs sacred Navajo dwellings

Charles Vincent George Architects designed a traditional Navajo Hogan home for the wife of the late Rt. Rev. Steven Plummer, the first Navajo Bishop of the Episcopal Church.  The sacred dwellings will be constructed with the assistance of 25 youth members of Grace Episcopal Church in Hinsdale, under the supervision of volunteer professional contractors, 24 adults and Father Chris Pierce, Rector. The group will travel to Bluff, Utah, June 7-15.   |  Courtesy of Charles Vincent George Architects
Charles Vincent George Architects designed a traditional Navajo Hogan home for the wife of the late Rt. Rev. Steven Plummer, the first Navajo Bishop of the Episcopal Church. The sacred dwellings will be constructed with the assistance of 25 youth members of Grace Episcopal Church in Hinsdale, under the supervision of volunteer professional contractors, 24 adults and Father Chris Pierce, Rector. The group will travel to Bluff, Utah, June 7-15. | Courtesy of Charles Vincent George Architects
May 30 11:45 a.m.

Bruce George is known for his architectural feats. His Naperville business, Charles Vincent George Architects, has won many awards and accolades. But George’s latest project is designed to help the Navajo Nation in Bluff, Utah.

George designed a traditional Navajo hogan home for the wife of the late Rt. Rev. Steven Plummer, the first Navajo Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Catherine Plummer, who also is ordained, continues to live and serve the community in a trailer that recently was condemned.

“This was a unique opportunity for my office to research and design a nontraditional residence,” George said, who also designed a smaller guest hogan, based on design specifications of Navajo tradition. “We had the skills to design economical structures that were permittable in the area and donating my services helps contain costs.”

The sacred dwellings will be constructed with the assistance of 25 youth members of Grace Episcopal Church in Hinsdale, under the supervision of volunteer professional contractors, 24 adults and Father Chris Pierce, rector. The group will travel to Bluff, Utah, June 7 through 15.

“Our congregation is passionate about giving kids hands-on experience that capitalizes on their heightened social conscience,” said George, of Hinsdale, who is a member of the church. “I think about my youth, and the time I spent volunteering to lay bricks on Naperville’s Riverwalk. It was really satisfying to know I could contribute something good for the community.”

The main hogan will serve as a residence for Plummer’s wife, as well as a gathering place with dedicated living and worship space.

The design is dictated by the traditional octagonal shape of ancient Navajo tradition, where areas of the hogan were dedicated to gathering, living and prayer, all surrounding a central fireplace.

While the new dwellings have modern features and finishes, they are designed and built on the abiding design principals. All have entry doors that must face east, so that inhabitants may greet the rising sun at the start of each day. The 1,200-square-foot main residence will include central living and gathering space as well as three bedrooms, a study, kitchen, laundry and baths.

Water and electricity will be added as donations allow. Stone and stucco exteriors will mimic the surrounding sandstone bluffs of Utah’s Canyon Country. Galvanized metal roofs are designed to deflect the desert heat. At least three smaller guest hogans are planned to accommodate visitors to the community.

Father Pierce says to have permission to work with the Navajo people on a sacred dwelling is a unique honor.

“We are working in third-world conditions here,” he said. “The indigenous peoples have had a hard time because we white men felt we had the right to occupy the land and convert people to our ways of thinking. They don’t need us; we need them.

“For our young people, this is an opportunity to transform themselves — we are providing a space in the universe where they can discover themselves.”

This is the second trip Pierce has made to the Navajo Nation.

“This is an opportunity to grow spiritually, by recognizing our sameness and that we belong to one another,” he said.

The group will not complete the construction during their five-day stay, but should get the main dwelling under roof and framed in.

“We are developing a how-to process that we hope other groups will build upon, while they enjoy the satisfaction of discovering the Navajo culture and completing work on a sacred structure,” he said. “We’ve worked on projects in other impoverished areas of the world, but this should be part of our sovereign U.S. thought — to understand the rich history and culture of our indigenous peoples.

“You don’t need a passport — it’s right here.”

Donations to the Navajo Hogan project may be made to the Youth Missions Organization at Grace Episcopal Church in Hinsdale. For more information, visit http://gracehinsdale.wix.com/navajonation.

Courtesy of Deb Newman

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