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Grow Shelter Dos is an earth shelter for local and visiting artists in the Navajo Nation.

Grow Shelter Dos is an earth shelter for local and visiting artists in the Navajo Nation. Read More
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This project's funding goal was not reached on November 1, 2012.

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Julia Molloy
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Julia Molloy

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About this project

XLXS Partner Taka Sarui and Navajo Artist Thomas Issac on site in Shonto, Arizona.
XLXS Partner Taka Sarui and Navajo Artist Thomas Issac on site in Shonto, Arizona.
Sectional rendering of the Artist Center for Local and Visiting artists in the Navajo Nation
Sectional rendering of the Artist Center for Local and Visiting artists in the Navajo Nation

Native-Americans and Visitors Aim to Celebrate the Arts While Exchanging Cultures and Ideas

Looking for a way to pay homage to his Navajo roots, Thomas Isaac, an artist, in collaboration
with Brooklyn-based design collaborative, XLXS, has decided to build a shelter that responds to
the traditional Navajo architecture of the Hogan . He intends to make a domicile for local artists
to share and collaborate and visitors to appreciate. Having grown up on the Navajo Nation,
Isaac believes that this type of unique dwelling for the community is exactly what they need to
conserve and celebrate the local artists and cultural beauty the people have to offer. Currently,
accommodations for visitors in the Shonto area are austere. With the construction of the artist
center, a focal point will be made whereby visiting artists may stay and collaborate with the local

The idea for this artist shelter goes beyond the appreciation of the arts. Isaac plans to make this
shelter sustainable to add value to the nearby Navajo National Monument and in keeping with
the cultural beliefs associated with the hogan. Julia Molloy, co-founder of XLXS says,” We are
excited to work on a project that lends itself to the people and their authentic way of life.” In
addition to the sustainability, collaboration between the visiting artists and local community is
paramount. Isaac believes that the cultural exchange and collaborative art projects enhanced
by the artist center’s unique design will build bridges between the Navajo people and the outside

Completion of this all-volunteer project is dependent on funding. XLXS generously has devoted
their time and expertise to translate and create Isaac’s vision, and your help can make it a
reality. Get involved in this mission to transform the way artists and visitors collaborate to
appreciate the history and richness of the Navajo Nation.

To learn more about this project read on….

Taka Sarui and Julia Molloy are XLXS, a Brooklyn - based design collaborative, and they have been developing prototypes for alternative sustainable shelters, and have an exciting new project in the Navajo Nation that they are raising money to build.   

Thomas Isaac, a Navajo artist, contacted Taka of XLXS to collaborate on a design for an artist center in Shonto, Arizona in the Navajo Nation. 

As a native of the Navajo Nation, his dream has been to create an artists' retreat on the land he calls home.  


For the shelter, Thomas has acquired a one-acre piece of land located just 10 minutes from the Navajo National Monument that attracts many tourists, and he would like the shelter to be an open gathering place for visitors as well as locals.

Thomas has envisioned an artist center where local Navajo Artists and Visiting  Artists can meet and collaborate on artistic projects together.  He made the following design requests:

  • The structure should enable artists to work outside in the open air in the breath-taking landscape, while providing protection from the harsh sun and strong desert winds.
  • The Navajo custom of gathering around the fire and sharing ancestral stories at night should be incorporated as an important component of the  design.  
  • Most importantly, the shelter should be as sustainable as possible and be a home for the local plants and animals as well as human visitors

XLXS had just built an eco-shelter in a Natural Reserve in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The concept for the design was to create a shelter that changed with, and adapted to, the seasons. The interior shells of the shelter are constructed of lime mortar over a reinforced steel framework structure. The earth exterior is built from soil embedded with native plants and flowers along with birdseed ingredients like peanuts, sunflower seeds, and corn. Thomas Isaac was inspired by how the design responded to the natural environment and requested that his shelter respond to the natural environment of the Navajo Nation.

After much research, XLXS selected an uncommon but pre-existing building technology of digging out voids within the earth to create shelter. The method has been used to construct the Teshima Art Museum designed by Tokyo-based architect Ryue Nishizawa and Japanese artist Rei Naito. Using this method on a much smaller scale, XLXS designed a process that uniquely responded to the environmental and cultural conditions of the Navajo site.

The fabrication process is conceived as a cyclic exchange of earth and air to create a woven shelter embedded in the arid landscape. Like the Navajo National Monument, the goal was to create dwellings shaped by the earth, but rather than finding shelter within the rock, Grow Shelter DOS is generated from a system that uses sand from the earth as a recyclable formwork to construct the cluster of thin concrete shells that will offer shelter.

The following 5 step process cycles the earth from solid to void to create shelter.

1 - Gathering the Sand

2 - Sculpting and Wrapping the Mound

3 - Laying the Framework

4 - Mixing the Mortar with Earth and Applying the Shell

5 - Curing the Shell and Breaking the Wrapper

The Earth formwork is shifted to the next shell to be constructed and the cycle begins again.

This construction process uses the following  systems to help reduce the impact on the natural environment: 

This system enables the design to be modular and constructed over a period of time, minimizing disturbance to the local ecosystem.

The recycled earth formwork system eliminates the waste created when using traditional formwork. 

In comparison to the wood log structural framework used to build a Navajo hogan, Grow Shelter DOS uses a lightweight basket-woven system of recycled rebar forged from reclaimed steel from local factories. 

Like Grow Shelter UNO, the shells are constructed out of lime mortar concrete mixed with desert sand. Using lime mortar instead of standard concrete, reduces the carbon footprint by 80% and increases durability overtime.

The layout for the visiting center is composed of a water pond to attract the wildlife, a performance space, a fire pit with view of the western horizon, a sleeping shell, and a smaller detached pod for meditation and reflection. On completion of the fabrication, the formwork sand will be buried back into the earth at the base of the site to grow a garden of native plants and flowers.

Your support will cover building materials and fabrication of the artist center. We will be working with local artist community groups to create the project, and your contributions will not only help make this unique structure a reality, but also help generate a community of local and visiting members that will extend and support the life cycle of the artist center. With your donation, we will create a transformational meeting place to promote conversation and idea exchange between artists of all cultures. Lets make this dream come true

Risks and challenges

There will be many challenges when developing the Grow Shelter 2, all of which will be approached through our collaborative process and with interdisciplinary teamwork.

Construction - Before the Shelter is built on site - there will be structural, sustainable, and feasibility analysis studies executed to verify and clarify the design. Material studies of the construction and durability of the materials and methods used to construct the Grow Shelter will be performed in New York in in a fabrication studio in Brooklyn. A full scale mock up of one of the earth shells will be built on site for design validation, prior to the final construction.

Local Stakeholders - Design reviews and presentation with local community boards and organizations will take place to enroll the artist and residential communities into the project and empower them own the center.

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Support this project

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $25 or more About $25 USD

    Print Black and White Photograph from the Navajo Nation by Navajo Artist Thomas Isaac.

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    38 backers
  2. Select this reward

    Pledge $100 or more About $100 USD

    Print Color Photograph from the Navajo Nation by Navajo Artist Thomas Isaac.

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    8 backers
  3. Select this reward

    Pledge $500 or more About $500 USD

    Selected Print from Navajo Artist Thomas Isaac.

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  4. Select this reward

    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000 USD

    Signed Print from Navajo Artist Thomas Isaac.

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    1 backer
  5. Select this reward

    Pledge $5,000 or more About $5,000 USD

    Plant planted in the garden at the artist center with commemorative tile with your name on it! + Signed Print from Navajo Artist Thomas Isaac.

    Estimated delivery
    0 backers

Funding period

- (30 days)