Method Architecture Reimagines Public Space for Native Entrepreneurs and Community Engagement in Tuba City, Arizona
At Method, we believe that great design should be accessible to all. We first heard about Change Labs | Native Startup and what their team was trying to accomplish through our native business networks. As a fellow Native-owned business, we reached out to see how we could help bring their vision to life!
Change Labs is a Native-led and Native-controlled nonprofit organization based on the Diné (Navajo) and Hopi Nation. They aim to create a safe place for entrepreneurs and community members to explore and develop their ideas. They provide workspace, tools, resources, and know-how to Native entrepreneurs. Most recently, they have created a petition asking Arizona Representative Tom O’Halleran to request congressional funds to clean up vacant government buildings to repurpose them for Navajo and Hopi small businesses.
Although the Diné Nation possesses the largest Tribal land mass in the United States—roughly 27,000 square miles—most of that land is off-limits to Diné people and businesses. More than 90 percent of reservation land belongs to the U.S. government, held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
“The invisibility of Native American owned businesses who have to operate from their home has a detrimental impact on our economy,” says Heather Fleming (Diné/Navajo), Executive Director at Change Labs.
“The invisibility of Native businesses also means that the 600,000+ tourists traveling across the reservation eat their meals at chain establishments, purchase Native American jewelry in border town galleries, and pay for tours led by non-Native people.”
The team at Method volunteered to help Change Labs create some schematic design options and visuals which depict the potential reuse of these dilapidated buildings to generate excitement, cultural pride, and support from their community in order for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to consider the redevelopment of these outdated buildings on tribal land.
The goal of the project was to design a space where the community will have access to a variety of resources and a space that can transform to what is needed in the community at any given moment. From farmers market, artist lofts, and gallery walls for muralist and street artist to presentations, educational sessions, and even a tourism destination were all possible uses of the space. With a wealth of experience in adaptive reuse projects, the team came up with a design that kept as much of the existing structure as possible while providing more flexibility and an activated open space with opportunities for local artists to showcase their work.
The design features:
- Raised roofing with added clerestory windows allowing for abundant natural lighting into studio space(s)
- preservation of the original stone walls
- replacement of all overhead door openings with storefront windows
- Added green space for events like pop-up/flea/farmers’ markets
- Round planter seating for socializing
- Inserted a colonnade of walls, intended for street artists and muralists
- Added monumental stairs providing seating for presentations, and connecting to an elevated viewing platform.
“I truly enjoyed working on each phase of this project, and having the creative freedom and a wide range of possibilities to work with. What I enjoyed the most was the reactions from the client upon delivery and the excitement and thrill that the design has brought to them. I would say this is one of the best parts about completing a project, and one of the best feelings,” said project designer, Jesse Vásquez.
More about Change Labs and Native Startup – nativestartup.org
Change Labs is a Native-led and Native-controlled 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based on the Navajo and Hopi Nation. We foster the creation of successful Native American small businesses that provide a social benefit to tribal communities.
Tribal America has no deficit of challenges – from the lack of infrastructure, to rampant and persistent poverty, to under-performing public education. Despite our sovereignty, we remain dependent on outside forces to address these problems by providing needed jobs, sustaining our governance, and thereby driving our economies. However, by enabling and supporting Native small business operating within our communities, we can begin to make steps towards economic self-sustainability.
Change Labs was designed to create a safe place for entrepreneurs and and community members to explore and develop their ideas. We provide the infrastructure, expertise, and support structures for the first three years of the entrepreneurial journey. Many homes on the reservation don’t have physical addresses, making it difficult to apply for a Tax Identification Number. The majority of communities on the reservation do not have internet access. By providing these things, as well as desk space, software access, classes in website design, financial planning, leadership development, and so on, Change Labs will take measurable steps towards increasing the number of Native-owned small businesses operating in Native communities.