Visualizing housing, economy and infrastructure on the Lakota Reservations

It is the common terminology among international economic, political and health organizations to define nations as “developed” and “undeveloped,” a system of categorization that has deep implications in the realm of architecture, planning and urban studies. This system leads to nations such as the United States being defined as ‘developed’ in comparison to other nations, yet the binary forgets a grey zone that currently exists within the boundary of the country – 55.7 million acres of Native Reservation land, representing 2.3% of the United States’ land area. Here, boundaries of territory, government and sovereignty are complicated and obtuse, and living conditions can be comparable to those in ’underdeveloped’ nations.  The reservations are easily neglected in the greater discussion of the success and failure of the nation. Similarly, they are rarely considered in the discussion of current architecture, planning and urban studies. We intend to address the scarcity of information, documentation and critical discussion pertaining to this grey zone.

We propose to concentrate our exploration and discussion on the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge Reservations, where living conditions, access to education and economy are often disadvantaged. Here, we will specifically address issues of housing and infrastructure as they relate to employment, education, economy and sovereignty.  The project aims to collect data through a series of interviews, photographic, drawn and film documentation, and the collection of primary source documents, such as sketches or visual materials made in collaboration with those interviewed and official documents and maps.  This interactive approach is one of exchange – to work with those we meet to collect, create and inform. We envision the compilation of a textured body of research that speaks to the current state of these reservations, and to possible futures, through mapping, drawing, photography, writing and material research.  We picture the creation of an informational map that will draw connections between housing and infrastructure in relationship to economy, education and sovereignty, thus making this information visible, coherent and available to the local community and broader design community.

In collecting this data, we hope to put together a multi-media research document, presented both in book and exhibition format, and to organize a workshop to further encourage discussion and action.  The aim of our research is twofold; on the one hand we want to spark local participation in shaping the future built conditions of the reservation and simultaneously engage the greater national design community in a more robust dialogue about these spaces. We hope to draw awareness to the current situation and inspire activism towards the future.


This project is made possible by the generous support of the Percival and Naomi Goodman Fellowship 2010,  supplemented by the William Kinne Traveling Prize 2o10, and our phenomenal faculty at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

“A child accepts the man-made background itself as the inevitable nature of things; he does not realize that somebody once drew some lines on a piece of paper who might have drawn otherwise.  But now, as engineer and architect once drew, people have to walk and live.[1]

[1] Goodman, Percival and Paul. Communitas: Means of Livelihood and Ways of Life. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947). 3.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s