When talking about conceptual design for a building on the Navajo Nation or any other tribe, one must include the culture as a dominant element. I prefer to call this another contextual layer. As mentioned previously, the family unit is considered one design element. In addition to the family unit, other factors are also involved in the development and understanding of today's architecture on the Navajo reservation.
These may include spatial adjacency design, ,stones, colors, cosmology, and values associated with the four directions. According to the four directions or (cardinal points), a distinct physical and value relationship exist. Within this basin of four monumental mountains, we are given the luxury of sustaining our way of life from our mother.
A Navajo passage: Land ethics is universal since all indigenous people associate themselves one with the natural world. For example, when a Navajo child is born the umbilical cord dries and detaches naturally and the family is obligated to put this special feature beneath the surface of mother earth within the boundaries of the four sacred mountains. This ritual ensures that all Navajo children are attached to the native land. Our perception is that we belong to our home.
One example of cardinal planning is the ground plan of the Navajo Museum, Library, & Visitor Center located in Window Rock, AZ. Navajos associate values and customs with each of the four directions, such as knowledge with the north or strength to the west. Therefore the library at the Dine Museum and Library is located on the north side of the building.
One of the most important elements in Navajo ideology is facing the main entry to the east because this coincides with the rising of the new day. The idea is that we as Navajos offer prayers with corn pollen at dawn to compliment the beginning of a new and fulfilling day. This pure day emerges from the east.
The picture to the right show a conceptual computer rendering of a proposed Chapter House located near Tuba City, AZ. The entry is facing the east so that adherence to a Navajo concept is complimented. A design feature has been added to the entry, the overhead sun canopy. This colored feature shows the sunrays coming over the East Mountain. The color associated with the east is turquoise coinciding with the stone found in the area.
Another scheme that benefits the cultural characteristic is circular forms, which display a concept of life in an eternal continuance. The balance of life is forever continuing in a pattern of life and death. This is the underlying concept of the Navajo Veterans Memorial Park.
The concept of creating built structures to the notion of the continuing realm of life is praise to Navajo philosophy. As mentioned previously under Conceptual Schemes, the round shape of buildings mimicked the formal aspects of a hogan, the basis of traditional family ideals. A shape such as the circle conveys the meaning of a never-ending path in which at any point along the periphery, a common node ultimately exists as the centerpoint of this shape. The Navajo (Dine') accept this greatly because in a hogan, the fire, one of the elements of life, is located at the center.
Other geometric shapes are also very evident in the Navajo arts. Squares, triangles, and other polygons are found in rugs, pottery, wedding baskets, and etc.
In the case of a Navajo-wedding basket, the geometric articulations of the squares are weave into its final circular shape. The result of this is through the application of material and methodology. The joining of two shapes such as the square and the circle are perhaps the basic principle of the hogan. In today's formality of a hogan, the common structural building element is the log. This shape is basically an extruded circle or could be a "dressed" log, an extruded square. These linear elements are placed in a criss-cross pattern at the corners, consequently defining geometry upon its ascent.
The basket construction is somewhat similar however the main elements spirals from the center then outward. Linear strips of specific grass are wrapped around bundles of larger grass or straw.