Students' yurt-style design embraced by Pinoleville Pomo Nation

September 24, 2012 by Abby Cohn
Students’ yurt-style design embraced by Pinoleville Pomo Nation
The students’ design features a central communal kitchen and living room for extended families and tribal gatherings, with five small attached units that can be used for bedrooms and storage. Credit: Ryan Shelby

What started as a six-week project for engineering freshmen is helping to create culturally sensitive and energy-efficient housing for a small California Indian tribe.

A yurt-style house design conceived in last spring's E10, Engineering Design and Analysis, was used as the base concept for several successful housing grant applications by members of the Pinoleville Pomo Nation (PPN), who will use the funds to build up to 26 new homes in the Mendocino County community of Ukiah, California.

"There's an acute need for housing here," says David Edmunds, environmental director for the tribe, which has about 300 members scattered throughout northern California. "Housing is considered a linchpin for a lot of things the tribe wants to accomplish."

Sustainability is also important to tribal members, and this spring new teams of E10 students are investigating the possibility of retrofitting existing Pomo homes with solar hot water heaters, photovoltaic systems and other energy-efficient improvements.

The collaboration started last year when Edmunds and tribal representative Linda Noel approached a Native American student group at UC Berkeley for help. Their request found its way to mechanical engineering professor Alice Agogino, who teaches an E10 section on human-centered and sustainable design.

Her students, co-advised by graduate student instructor Ryan Shelby, eagerly accepted the challenge. They made the 115-mile trip to Ukiah for a day-long fact-finding meeting with 20 tribe members to solicit input on the community's needs. That kind of exchange is precisely the idea behind human-centered design, Agogino says. "Tribal members know more about their needs than we do."

The new design features a large communal kitchen and living room to accommodate and tribal gatherings, with five small attached units that can be used for bedrooms and storage. The first home, now under construction, incorporates sustainable features like rainwater capture systems, passive heating and cooling systems and plenty of natural lighting.

"It resembles our traditional roundhouse," says tribal Vice Chair Angela James, "and would strengthen our community, not only economically, but traditionally." Centralized housing, the tribe hopes, will unify the Pinoleville Pomo and help members take advantage of job training and other services. Sponsoring the overall effort is CARES (Community Assessment of Renewable Energy and Sustainability), a student-run community outreach program.

"It's a real-world project that is going to directly impact the lives of people," says Shelby, a third-year Alfred P. Sloan Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering and CARES cofounder. Along with supervising the students, Shelby is incorporating the work into his doctoral research on sustainability and alternative energy.

Explore further: Green homes use 80 per cent less energy

Related Stories

Green homes use 80 per cent less energy

April 5, 2012

Clever, inexpensive design can cut the energy used in new homes by up to 80 per cent, says a Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researcher.

Indians meet to discuss global warming

December 7, 2006

An historic event was held this week near the lower Colorado River, with more than 50 U.S. Indian tribes meeting to discuss the global warming crisis.

Feds say Wyo. tribe's bald eagle permit a first

March 15, 2012

(AP) -- A federal permit allowing the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming to kill up to two bald eagles for religious purposes is the first of its kind ever issued to an American Indian tribe, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ...

Opening day for a home of the future

January 28, 2008

The first of six properties designed to show case state-of-the-art energy efficient housing will be officially opened on Wednesday January 30 2008 at The University of Nottingham.

Cherokee, Apple partner to put language on iPhones

December 23, 2010

(AP) -- Nine-year-old Lauren Hummingbird wants a cell phone for Christmas - and not just any old phone, but an iPhone. Such a request normally would be met with skepticism by her father, Cherokee Nation employee Jamie Hummingbird.

Turning hot air into energy savings

June 16, 2011

A team of students from the Bourns College of Engineering at the University of California, Riverside have been selected for a $15,000 grant from the EPA to develop a system could cut electricity bills up to 16 percent by ...

Recommended for you

Ringing the changes: Dutch bike lock blocks rider's phone

June 21, 2017

A telecom company in the Netherlands has teamed up with the country's traffic safety authority to develop a bicycle lock that also blocks its mobile network, in a move aimed at protecting young riders who regularly pedal ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.