A School for the Community: Baca Dlo’ay Azhi

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Community, culture and sustainability – our first project celebrating Native American Heritage Month is a true example of how design can be influenced by local culture to produce a beautiful and highly-functional facility. Baca Dlo’ay Azhi Community School in Prewitt, New Mexico was one of the first education projects designed by Dyron Murphy Architects, and it was the first LEED certified building in New Mexico.

From the overall footprint of the building to the imprinted detailing on the walls, Baca Dlo’ay Azhi demonstrates the importance of local influences on building design.

Inspiration 3 - feather

The DMA team drew inspiration from Diné culture, symbolically incorporating functions and colors associated with the Circle of Life into the project design. The main entry faces east toward Mt. Taylor, which is one of the four sacred mountains to the Diné people. Other design elements addressed the four sacred directions with the four wings of the building radiating from a central core. At the central core is the library where students and staff can gather under the light of a central skylight.

Inspiration 2 - Corn

To connect the building to the site, the spaces between building elements are landscaped with native plants, creating an interplay between the man-made and natural worlds. Corn motifs are imprinted on exterior walls, noting another significant element in Diné culture.

Baca Dlo’ay Azhi Community School received a White House Closing the Circle Award Honorable Mention, Sustainable/Green Buildings Category, in 2005. The school also received the Department of the Interior Energy Award in 2004.

Learn more about our Native and Education projects on our website.


A Fresh New Space for CNM’s Ted Chavez Hall

When the Applied Technology faculty of Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) realized that Ted Chavez Hall no longer fit their needs, they sought an architecture firm to re-design–and ultimately re-envision–their workspace.

Dyron Murphy Architects (DMA) assigned two of their best and brightest to the project: Oscar Tovar, Project Manager, and Vanessa Garcia, Project Architect. They met with CNM project managers and faculty to determine how to best address the faculty’s needs.

The consensus was that they needed to maximize the existing space in order to create more work stations, while simultaneously creating a sense of openness. In addition to creating more work stations, the client also requested a conference room and a collaborative work area. Aside from these requirements, the client didn’t have a specific vision in mind. While this presented Oscar and Vanessa with the challenge of determining which design would be the right fit, it also gave them wide latitude to come up with creative design solutions.

Our designers started with what they knew: The Applied Technology faculty often get their hands dirty, and some work with circuitry. These details influenced a number of design elements, including the color palette (grey accented by key lime) and the use of resilient flooring rather than carpeting (to make cleaning easier). They also incorporated industrial accents into the design: Metal accents and clean lines were softened by a wood partition that created a physical barrier between work areas and the break room without making the space feel smaller.

CNM Ted Chavez Hall Renovation Wood Screen Wall

A wooden partition separates the break room from work stations in the newly renovated Ted Chavez Hall at CNM.

Oscar and Vanessa also toured the campus’s new library and STEM building to get a sense of the architectural vision the campus had for its future and to ensure that DMA’s design reflected that vision. They also proposed various work station seating configurations to help CNM solidify their vision for the Applied Technology Department.

Another challenge for our architects was designing around the existing concrete masonry unit (CMU) walls; Oscar and Vanessa were tasked with creating more space without resorting to demolition. Ultimately, they enjoyed the challenge of working around the existing space to create a more functional, aesthetically pleasing workplace. They were also able to work around CNM’s academic schedule, quickly completing the design and renovations during the campus’s summer break.

The result? An invigorating space tempered by natural wood accents that invites collaboration, creativity and innovation.

CNM Ted Chavez Hall work stations

Space is maximized while maintaining a bright, open feeling with the addition of work stations and a conference room.

The faculty is thrilled with the renovations, as are the architects behind the design. For her part, Vanessa said she loved working on a smaller project because “you have more time to focus on the design and the details.” Oscar agreed and added that working with CNM was an enjoyable experience because they were “open to a sleek aesthetic and bright colors.”

CNM Ted Chavez Hall Conference Room

Large frosted windows infuse the conference room with natural light and make it seem more spacious.

CNM Ted Chavez Hall lighting fixture

Attention to detail, such as the conference room lighting fixtures, is one of the defining characteristics of the remodeled Applied Technologies Department of CNM.

An Architect’s Reward

Defining the “greatest” reward is difficult because the field of architecture spans many different facets of life. Is a Plexiglas trophy from the AIA “more” rewarding than a handshake and a heartfelt thank you from a grateful client? I am honestly not sure. All I can do is share one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my (admittedly brief) experience.

The project was to take a 50-year old brick school house and bring it up to 21st century standards. We replaced dilapidated finishes in the classrooms, improved safety features, and brought in natural light throughout the building. The before-and-after photos are striking, and the school administrators were extremely happy with the results. I’m sure that had a little to do with the fact that we renovated the admin area as well, but I digress.  Education is a cause that I care about deeply. Being able to make such a marked improvement in the daily lives of students and teachers (and being appreciated for it) is a truly special feeling.

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Introducing the First Annual SASC


It’s August. The summer is winding down, stores are stocking school supplies, and students all over are packing as much fun into their last few weeks of summer freedom as they possibly can. After recent budget cuts (discussed here), a lot of students won’t have after school programs, art or music classes, or their favorite electives to look forward to.

So, we decided to see if we can fix that, and give students something to look forward to.

At Dyron Murphy Architects, P.C. (DMA) we are continually looking for ways we can help our community. This year, we wanted to do something bigger. Something better. Something that will benefit Native American students throughout the southwest. Our goal is to empower students, to encourage them to not only make it through school, but excel and even enjoy their classes. We want to inspire engagement with all areas of education, from math and science, to reading and cultural studies.

DMA is pleased to announce the first annual Native American Student Architect Sketch Competition (SASC). The SASC gives students the opportunity to explore their creativity while thinking critically about the structural elements of a building. The competition exposes students to the field of architecture, and provides a creative platform for teachers and students to investigate core STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) lessons, in addition to history, communication, language and other lessons.

For more information on the competition (rules and regulations, etc.) check out the “Student Architect Sketch Competition” tab above. Or click here.

House Passes Student Success Act with Rep. Young Amendment to Protect Alaska Native Education Programs | Delta News Web

There have been no major legislative measures directed toward primary education since 2001. No Child Left Behind (passed in 2001) was the last “serious” act passed in regards to elementary and secondary education. As many people – students, parents, teachers, administrators, and politicians – have noted, No Child Left Behind is a seriously flawed system. So why has it taken 12 years to fix?

We’re not politicians, so we won’t speculate on the incredible delay that’s seen a whole generation of students pass through the K-12 grades under the No Child Left Behind Act. But we will encourage our readers to check out the recently passed piece of legislation that is (finally!) aimed at changing the way education is approached in America.

The Student Success Act does away with Adequate Yearly Progress and federally mandated interventions, and gives parents more control over their child’s education.

Read the details here:

House Passes Student Success Act with Rep. Young Amendment to Protect Alaska Native Education Programs | Delta News Web.

Native American Students, Educators, See Hard Times Ahead

Sequestration cuts loomed over the nation briefly before being enacted on March 1. In 2013 alone there will be federal spending cuts totaling $85 billion, which is making educators squirm. The National Indian Education Association, a nonprofit that advocates for the education of Native American students, says that across the nation, budget cuts totaling more than $60 million will carve into key programs, affecting the operations of 710 schools serving primarily Native American students. In total, about 115,000 Native American students will be impacted.

Native American students often live on reservations where the federal government cannot assess property taxes, which are used to contribute to the running and maintaining of educational facilities. In place of those property taxes, there is Impact Aid, which is a program of the Department of Education that provides funds to offset the money that otherwise would have come from property taxes. According to a three-part series from the Indian Country Today Media Network, journalist Tanya Lee states that Impact Aid was immediately affected by the cuts; this type of loss will have an impact on Native American students from birth through college.

Of all the states, Arizona receives the most Impact Aid, reports Lee. Debra Norris is the associate superintendent of Native American Education and Outreach for the Arizona Department of Education.

“Native American students are experiencing a large achievement gap at the same time that [state] standards are being raised. As Common Core is put into effect, there will be more math and science requirements for graduation. All of these things mean increased needs for Native American students.”

Aside from the direct effect of cutting Impact Aid, there are further complexities that are not easily resolved. For those Native Americans living on Indian reservations, typically in remote, rural areas, access to transportation and in turn, education, is limited. The US Census Bureau reports that about one-third of Native Americans live on reservation land and are disadvantaged when it comes to access to higher education.

CNN’s Dan Merica reported that Gallup-McKinley County School District, in New Mexico, is struggling under the cuts of Impact Aid due to its proximity and the high numbers of Native American students within the district.

“We aren’t going to be able to educate them in the way we would like to because we don’t have the funds to do it,” district-leader Ray Arsenault told CNN. Arsenault’s furthest school in Gallup-McKinley is 103 miles away.

“I bus three million miles a year to get the students to and from school,” Arsenault said of the district.

The distance and thus the need for transportation means that consolidating programs is not possible, and areas including library budgets will likely be slashed in the coming school year.

Similar problems are occurring for Jeff Bisek, superintendent of the Mahonomen Public School District in Minnesota on the White Earth Reservation, serving 612 K-12 students, about 70 percent being Native American. Bisek is looking at the possibility of eliminating one bus route, meaning longer riding times for students, and cutting an afterschool homework club program from four days a week to two. Currently, Bisek provides transportation at 5:30, using Impact Aid funds to provide transportation up to 25 miles away. Without that means of transportation, the students could in turn lose out on extracurricular activities due to the proximity issue.

Education is the stepping stone for prosperity in native communities. At Dyron Murphy Architects, we know the value of innovative, functional, and well-funded educational facilities; creating them is one of our passions.

Stay informed with us on the sequester and other obstacles for native students. Read more of this discussion on Monday, July 15.

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