Building models and materials from Julee Herdt's Master of Architecture Studio.

Small Homes with Big Design

January 30, 2023

Students in Professor Julee Herdt’s Master of Architecture (M.Arch) studio spent their fall semester getting to know representatives of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Community and designing carbon-neutral, affordable housing units for the Pine Ridge Reservation.

In coordination with Ferguson Pyatt Architects, Inc., the Oglala Lakota Housing Authority’s in-house architects, and in collaboration with Stronghold Society Founder Walt Pourier, students shared discussions, design reviews, and consultations for culturally and sustainably created residences.

The goal for the studio was to evolve strategies, methods, techniques, or systems that help replenish, set right, rebuild, or otherwise sustain Oglala Lakota Sioux life through the design of healthier, improved residential offerings. They applied Professor Herdt’s patented, sustainable inventions as well as their own green material proposals in their home designs.

BioSIPs and Architectural “Give-Back”

Herdt is the inventor and CEO of BioSIPs, Inc a clean-tech start-up and woman-owned technology corporation producing patented Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) from 100% waste cellulose. She holds the first-ever patents based out of the College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) and established the first CAP spin-off company.

In a 2015 article from, Herdt stated, “The BioSIPs invention actually consumes society’s waste and diverts tons of trash into valuable products for safe, strong, and energy-efficient buildings. There is great beauty and value in waste materials. It just takes the right processes and methods to find it, and with BioSIPs we’ve invented and now patented these techniques.”

BioSIPs are the only fully renewable, recyclable, repulpable SIP. They use diverted post-consumer wastepaper, agricultural residues, construction leftovers, forest burn, bovine waste, and other fibers headed to landfills, decomposition, or burning. Students in Herdt’s studio applied BioSIPs and their own innovations proposed for the technology as the main building enclosure for the residences and Accessible Dwelling Unit (ADU) designs.

Unique to the “Small Houses_Big Design Studio,” students identified a distinctive architectural “give-back” as an aspect of their final projects.

“The goal was to teach students to consider and take environmental accountability for every design and material impact associated with their project,” said Herdt. “This was to help them understand the great responsibility that is now theirs as they prepare to enter a profession known as the world’s second greatest contributor to global warming and landfill contributions (agriculture is cited as the #1 pollution contributor).”

Herdt began the semester by assigning students a history and site research project to kick off the semester with motion and meaning by emphasizing the importance of the Oglala Lakota Sioux community.  

Featured Final Projects Presented to Oglala Lakota Sioux Community Members

Members of the Oglala Sioux tribe participated in the College of Architecture and Planning’s Final Reviews, which took place in December 2022. M.Arch students Ben Jaworski, Iman Amery, and Kevin Miller each took a different approach to the assignment.

Ben Jaworski presents posters and models from his final project to three guest reviewers.

Ben Jaworski

Project Title: The Oglala Passive House / The Bio Truss

Project Overview:

“This house is designed for a single family that will live amongst the surrounding environment and be off-grid. The concept of this project is to be easily buildable, self-sustaining, supporting family interactions, and eco-friendly. A rooftop solar array will provide power to the entire house and ADU,” wrote Jaworski. “Passive strategies such as stone floors that act as heat sinks, earth tubes for natural air conditioning, and a solar chimney to exhaust the hot summer air are the main drivers for heating and cooling. Water is harvested from the roof and drains directly into a garden that can provide homegrown food.”

“The Bio-Truss SIP can be used as a floor, wall, or roof panel. Standard panel dimensions are 4’x8’. Warren trusses with verticals made of Bio-board provide the main supporting structure,” Jaworski continued. “The insulation is sheep wool and has an R-value of 3.5 per inch. 4’x8’ Bio-board sheets sandwich both faces of the panel.”

Iman Amery presents poster to reviewer during the Fall 2022 Final Reviews.

Iman Amery

Project Title: Oglala Lakota Cultural Preservation Center through Craft

Project Overview:

“This project creates a space for elders and youth to directly come together to learn traditional crafts and stories from each other in a hands-on environment so that art and culture can be passed along,” shared Amery. “The Oglala Lakota people strongly value their culture. Their culture encompasses large gatherings, valuing their elders, and their traditions. Native American culture will always run deep in this community’s blood and soul, but Pine Ridge Reservation is missing physical spaces for its rich culture to be celebrated. This building’s goal is to bring back their ways of making, creating, and displaying their work.  It gives them an open, easily accessed for young and old, designated place to do so.”

“This design features an open-spaced workshop populated with desks for one-on-one craft work such as sewing and beading between elders and the youth, as well as a small-scale woodshop used to produce smaller wood carvings and instruments,” continued Amery. “An exterior courtyard allows a gathering space for historic storytelling within the tribe.”

Kevin Miller presents poster and building materials to reviewer.

Kevin Miller

Project Title: Growing Home

Project Overview:

“This prototype home is designed for a multi-generational farming family that lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation and who are re-envisioning how they want to make a living, literally and figuratively,” said Miller. “The primary goals of the family are to reinvent their farm by growing and processing industrial hemp.”

“Hemp is known as “wahupta” to the Sioux — for construction products, and other types of material manufacture. Hemp agriculture could remediate soil, as well as help to establish the premier, local regenerative building practice that produces sustainable materials as the new standard for the future housing of the Lakota tribe,” Miller continued. “The design of this house reflects a complete overlap of the cultural significance of a people who scatter this beautiful landscape and a plant rooted in their ancient rituals and history.”

Next Steps for Small Homes_Big Design

The next project step includes applying for funding to work with Ferguson Pyatt Architects, and Oglala community members so that students and Herdt can build a proof-of-concept, biobased Accessory Dwelling Unit for an elder member living on Pine Ridge Reservation.  The home will include students’ biobased, recyclable, clean, and healthy materials and technology features for full-scale testing and documentation.