Situated in remote, northern Arizona is the Shonto Preparatory School, a 32,000 sq.-ft. high school. Built in eight months, this modular school serves Navajo students in the north central part of the state. The design process included guidance from a Navajo Architect practicing Neo-traditional Native American Architecture. Albert Damon collaborated with lead architect Joe Lundeen of Modular Technology, Inc., to create culturally significant design elements throughout the building interior and exterior. Those elements were incorporated specifically to honor the Navajo culture.

Both Albert Damon along with Joe Lundeen, architect of record for this project, arrived to their current practices after designing for Taliesin Architects, the firm founded by Frank Lloyd Wright. Formerly co-workers at that firm, Damon now practices Neo-traditional Native American Architecture and works with numerous Native American Indian Tribes while Lundeen serves as the lead architect and Vice President of Design and Engineering for Modular Technology, Inc. Both practice in Phoenix, AZ.

Lundeen asked Damon to join the Modular Technology design team on this particular project to draw on his experience in incorporating representations of Native American culture in architecture. After several design charettes provided decisions on which Navajo cultural symbols to incorporate into the Shonto project, Damon provided actual sketches of each element to Lundeen, who then refined and incorporated those elements into the architectural plans. The parapets included a geometric pattern that is prevalent in Navajo rugs, while the downspouts depict traditional Navajo corn stalk patterns. Damon is particularly proud of the floor Mosaic. It incorporates directional colors as well as abstracted forms that together represent the Navajo Four Sacred Mountains.

The school features 13 classrooms, a computer lab, library, cafetorium, administration offices, and 3,500 sq.-ft. vocational building.

Prior to the actual charettes, design inspiration was sought by school board and design team representatives on a trip to the Navajo National Monument which included a hike into the canyon to view the Anasazi ruins. The research of nature lead to the overall decorative themes chosen for Shonto, making the school a lasting representation of the indigenous Navajo setting. The foliage and aspen found in the bottom of the canyon were the same at the top. This prevalent flora became the inspiration for the school's hallway patterns. The canyon is depicted in the middle of that design while the dark areas at the base represent the actual foliage. Both the floor entry and assembly areas include artistic elements to depict mountain patterns in both geometric shape and color. The downspouts mimic corn stalk patterns intrinsic in the Navajo culture. The geometric pattern at the roof parapet was based on local jewelry and rug patterns of the Shonto region.

The design charettes included board members, administrators, community members, and educators. Each focused on budget requirements, general uses, technology needs, as well as the appropriate cultural elements. During preconstruction, the design/build team also worked with the Shonto Board and the consultants to bring the design within the budget. Several floor plans and classroom configurations were explored with the team to get the most building for the budget.

Modular Technology, Inc. currently has eight charter schools in design or construction, making a total of more than 40 permanent charter schools and additions built since the Arizona state legislature approved charter schools. Additionally, there are currently five district schools in design or construction using modular building practices. Modular Technology is chosen by schools because of the accelerated construction process using a parallel method of constructing the permanent custom building in a controlled environment while the site and infrastructure are under construction. This eliminates 50 percent of the time, yet the quality, materials, and subcontractors are identical to traditional construction.

To learn more about commercial modular construction and its applications, visit Modular Building Institute: The Voice Of Commercial Modular ConstructionTM.

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Navajo architect collaborates on modular
school honoring Native American culture
By Catherine Walley