The Apsáalooke Nation, known as the Crow Tribe, is located on the largest Native American reservation in the country, south of Billings, Montana on the border with Wyoming. With a backlog of 1900 affordable homes and high unemployment rates on the reservation, the Crow Tribe has been aggressively exploring several strategies for economic development. One of the main efforts over the last several years has been to work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Division of Energy and Mineral Development (DEMD) to develop a job training program that takes advantage of naturally occurring soil deposits on the reservation that are ideal for making compressed earth blocks (CEB.) Not only will producing CEBs on the reservation reduce the cost of housing, but their production will also create job opportunities.
After soil engineering data was confirmed by the DEMD geologists, the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities at the University of Colorado Boulder was contracted through DEMD to manage the engineering and testing of the CEB and develop building plans for three different homes utilizing the CEB for construction. Several preliminary designs were passed over because of their lack of comprehensive passive solar strategies and floor plans that failed to meet the particular practical and cultural needs of the Crow families.
In October 2009, Tom Bowen, Matthew Jelacic and Rob Pyatt at the University of Colorado Boulder worked together to address the designs through a comprehensive community engagement process with the Crow Tribe and then Pyatt Studio and Studio NYL Structural Engineers were contracted through the Mortenson Center to develop the architecture and engineering designs for the first 12 homes.