Program in Environmental Design

University of Colorado Boulder

Lama Foundation

Instructor: Jade Polizzi


Spring/Summer 2015

ENVD3300-060 - MWF - 09:00AM-09:50AM - Taught by Jade Polizzi
ENVD3300-061 - MWF - 10:00AM-11:50AM - Taught by Jade Polizzi
ENVD3300-062 - F       - 01:00PM-03:50PM - Taught by Stephen Eckert in CINC


This is a two semester long design/build studio. Students learn to design based on a client’s needs with the intention of constructing the cabin in the 2ndphase of the sequence. Designing a small cabin requires understanding all of the construction trades from foundation to furniture. Students gain an understanding of how their design choice are executed when translated into life-size projects. Phase two the ‘build’ will be in June 2014.



Spring/Summer 2014


The Lama Foundation is an educational facility and retreat center located near the town of Taos, New Mexico with the mission of awakening consciousness, spiritual practice with respect for all traditions, service, and stewardship of the land. In 1996 the Hondo Fire destroyed much of the existing architecture of the Lama Foundation, since then there has been an emphasis on using sustainable practices and technology. As a result, Lama has now become a regional showcase for natural building and permaculture.

Course Description

CU Environmental Design Students will partner with the Lama Foundation in Questa, New Mexico to assist in the design and construction of a simple and sustainable structure for three season use. The design will begin with students gathering research on simple shelters: form, space, materials and site. Students will then spend 8 weeks of the semester designing a cabin of approximately 100-150 square feet. In March, one project from the group of sixteen will be chosen to be built at the foundation beginning in the spring and finishing in the summer. The studio will conclude with the development of construction documents, scheduling and cost estimates for the chosen design. Students will experience working with a client, designing within a budget, and gain a thorough understanding of sustainable design and development. This course will become a 5 week design/build studio over the summer with construction split into two phases: prototype construction in Boulder during the first week and a three week assembly at the Lama Foundation. It is not mandatory to enroll in both classes. Students can chose to participate in either the design studio or the build studio but enrollment in both spring and summer studios will provide the most enriching sequence.


Lama Foundation Design/Build

faculty. Jade Polizzi student. Alex Willing

Lama Foundation Design/Build

faculty. Jade Polizzi student. Conor Evans

Lama Foundation Design Partnership

faculty. Jade Polizzi student. Leighton Miller

The Pendant Hut

faculty. Jade Polizzi student. Sean Keough

Lama Foundation Design/Build

faculty. Jade Polizzi student. Sophia DiBiase

Spring 2013

Design Build at the Lama Foundation

During the summer of 2013, fifteen students enrolled in ENVD Praxis Design/Build Studio to work with the Lama Foundation to design and build a small shelter.  Instructors Jade Polizzi and Stephen Eckert led the group on this eight-week design and construction experience.  Students sourced materials, produced construction drawings, worked within a budget and completed each phase of the construction.

The tiny hut is nestled at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains near a campground used by Lama Foundation retreatants.  The location is Questa, New Mexico, about 30 miles north of Taos and the client, the Lama Foundation, is a non-profit educational retreat center.  Inside the structure views abound and the bright desert light refracts off the interior wood, creating a cozy and peaceful ambiance.  The structure is 108 square feet, yet with high ceilings and attention to detail it feels much larger.  The interior contains a full size bed, a fold down desk (which also houses a cabinet for the solar electrical system) and a bench for removing one’s shoes.

The final product is simple, durable, and made with many recycled and sustainable materials.  The wooden interior is adorned with colorful mismatched hooks, a whimsical wall etching, exposed trusses and a tiled mandala mosaic on the floor.  It is a tiny functional building with beautiful details, built with care and pride.

The class utilized the CINC (Center for Innovation and Creativity) facility to finalize the Buff Hut design and pre-fabricate some of the time intensive construction elements.  During the first four weeks, the class built the lenticular truss chords and webbing, framed the walls, and cut the tiles for the entrance mosaic.

The construction was completed with two 10-day trips spent at the Lama Foundation.  Students camped on site and integrated construction with the daily routine of the Foundation. During the first trip, the foundation was dug, formed and completed.  Next came the structure; the deck, walls, and trusses were set into place.  Before returning to Boulder the building was dried-in with sheathing and a roof deck.

Between the two trips to New Mexico, time was spent building the interior furniture and finalizing a plan for completion.  The second trip to New Mexico resulted in the building coming to life. This included: soffit framing, installation of windows and doors, interior and exterior siding, roofing, and furniture assembly.  The space now came to life.

In the end each student gained construction experience taking part in multiple aspects of the building.  Whether it was mixing concrete for the piers, nailing siding with the pneumatic nailer or cutting tiles for the entry mandala every member of the team was necessary for the success of this project.

The final hut is beautiful both inside and out yet in the end all construction is temporary. What was really created over the period while design and construction unfolded?  We traveled many miles together, spent countless hours collaborating on a common creative goal, and learned to use tools and muscles in ways many of us hadn’t before. 

There is something less tangible and much more important that was created while working together on this project.  Laughter was shared and tears were shed.  A partnership was developed between two organizations that on the outside seem to share different worlds and outlooks.  And, best of all, new friendships were formed that will last a lifetime.



27 June 2014


05 September 2013


Butterfly Hut

faculty. Jade Polizzi student. Jim Kadlecek

A Welcome Reprieve

faculty. Jade Polizzi student. Kaitlin Gilland

The Lantern

faculty. Jade Polizzi student. Kyle Plantico

New Levels of the "A"

faculty. Jade Polizzi student. Marissa Finney