Santa Clara Pueblo

Santa Clara Pueblo, Kha‘Po Owingeh, New Mexico, United States

Youth Program for Pueblo Architectural Heritage

Santa Clara is one of twenty Pueblos that belong to the Puebloan Native American People. The initiative presented here was a collaboration between the Santa Clara Pueblo Department of Education, the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania, and Bandelier National Monument, National Park Service. Ten Pueblo youth between the ages of 14 and 23 participated in this summer program in July and August 2003. The objective of the program was to raise awareness among the participants about their rich architectural heritage and expose them to basic skills and know-how which would allow them to eventually become involved in the preservation and promotion of their building traditions and offer them choices as to what kind of physical environment they want to inhabit in the future. This was pursued through a series of field trips to several ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites, training exercises and hands-on activities.

Many Puebloan youth grow up unaware of the impressive architectural building traditions of their ancestors. Living only a few hours away from world-renowned monuments, most of the young participants had never visited any of them before, and many had not even known that these places existed. The program thus included various field visits, among them to Puye, Bandelier, as well as to the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites Aztec National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park, where the group spent considerable time to acquaint themselves with the places of their ancestors, undertake tours and meet with native interpretive guides and archaeologists. The group saw with their own eyes the greatness of the works of their ancestors and the interest they sparked in the thousands of tourists visiting these sites every day.

The group also mad contact with an architect who introduced them to 3-D computer models of Pueblo ancestral sites and let them turn archaeological data of their own ancestral site at Puye into a 3-dimensional rudimentary model. This technology and its potential to help “recover” parts of the past left a tangible impression on the group (see picture to the right below).

In order to spur discussions on the development of the village in recent years and the fate of the old adobe structures, training exercises of the program included the use of digital cameras to document their favorite buildings or spaces in the Pueblo’s historic area. They were also taught some basic architectural graphic skills, especially how to prepare plans and sections. The students drew plans of their own homes and were encouraged to develop their vision of an ideal house. Elements of site analysis, use of materials and construction techniques were introduced during this exercise. In addition, the group was presented with basic information about adobe construction and the students were shown slides featuring examples of earthen architecture throughout the world.

To channel the obviously high levels of impatience, frustration and rebelliousness which characterized the situation in the pueblo, the central activity of the summer program was the design and construction of a small structure, a hands-on experience involving physical activity. Returning from the tour of the different heritage sites, the group was enthusiastic to build something inspired by the works of their ancestors. They suggested to the tribal authorities to build a playhouse for the children at the local Head Start Program. This was constructed reintroducing traditional formal elements, some of which they had seen at the archaeological sites, and making use of adobe and “vigas” for the roof. The group participated in the design of the building and identified places within the reservation where materials for the construction were collected such as different soils for the mud-bricks and plasters, grasses for the plaster-mix and willow branches for the roof. Many community members were thrilled to see the young people so engaged, and supported them with food, materials and their own labor. This allowed the works to be finished within a few weeks.

At the official inauguration of the building, the response of the community to the project’s activities was very positive and several people spontaneously expressed their wish to build their own houses in such a manner, instead of the prefabricated houses most people live in. The successful completion of the adobe building conferred a sense of accomplishment that seems to have encouraged some of the students to pursue their interests, to go to college to study design or start taking courses in adobe construction. The cooperation received from many individuals and from members of different Departments of the Pueblo Administration was extraordinary. First steps to create an architectural heritage archive were undertaken with the identification of several sources of historical photographs.

The initiative points to how reconnecting with a forgotten heritage can help heal divisions within a community and inspire and empower youth that sometimes feel alienated and frustrated at their inability to change their own living circumstances.


This project was implemented by Ernesto Noriega (founding member of OrigiNations) in collaboration with the Governor‘s Office of the Santa Clara Pueblo Tribal Administration with institutional support from the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate Program in Historic Preservation.