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Early Structures
Architecture for native people such as the Navajos begins with a thorough  understanding of the culture and  the natural environment.  Navajo dwellings are quite fascinating since they represent a balance of values  between  cultural beliefs and a distinct relationshp to the land and its abundant resources. The material character or architecture is simple in appearance yet communicates a sense of place between nature and people. From this concept of 'interconnectedness ', cultural values or beliefs emerge as the defining element in Navajo society. The structures are compositions of earth materials and natural vegetation, a palette that genuinely defines the language of material for 19th and early 20th century  architecture on the Navajo Nation.  

In the latter half of the 20th Century, the built landscape evolves into a fragmented or even a display due to the socio-ecomomic patterns - namely (re)adjustment or assimilation.  Much of the architecture combines 'new' technologies with older ways of construction.

The female hogan (round dwelling) on the left shows logs of wood in a circular pattern with a domed roof.  The pattern of logs actually continues to the octulus by criss-crossing the ends of logs. This is how the roof becomes structurally stable.  The covering of the dome with dirt and tree bark acts as the "skin" on the roof while  the exterior walls are filled with tree bark and clay mortar.   The voids between the logs are also fill with strands of tree bark and clay mortar.  

The male hogan shape is different vertically, but the footprint is basically the same as the female dwelling.  This hogan shows the structure giving way to the form immediately.  The enclosure is again similar to the female dwelling.  The male hogan is also known as the fork-sticked dwelling.  It is the earliest form of dwelling for the Navajo during the late 19th and early 20th century and symbolizes the true form of these structures.  The later hogan, or female hogan was the result or the adaptation to a new, massed produced foreign material known as the railroad tie.  Railroad ties were standard in size and shape.  The tie was roughly around 10' in length.  This length dictated the size of a hogan. The idea of criss-crossing them into an octagonal shape dwelling was optimum and grossly accepted.   (this is a annotated version of the female hogan...however storys, tales, etc. seemed to governt the true value of the the hooghan)

These two  ritual structures  are a significant part of the Navajo.  They not only shelter the body, but represent the 'heart' for family values.  They host various social functions as well as being a setting for ceremonial use.  Examples include weddings, enemy way rituals and etc.


"Because of the notion that family values govern, any Navajo dwelling or structures have never been at a scale larger than to accommodate a moderate size family.  The size of these building types was based on how many occupants would live in the hogan or shade house.   A family unit now became a design concept in early and late 19th century Navajo architecture." (Harrison Martin)