Cleo and James Marston Fitch Thesis Grant

The Cleo and James Marston Fitch Thesis Grant was established in 2001 through an endowment by the estate of James Marston Fitch (1909-2000). It is given annually to a Columbia University Historic Preservation student to cover expenses incurred in Master's thesis research.

Conservation team at Taos Pueblo (2010) for the Taos Pueblo Preservation Project. Image Courtesy of World Monuments Fund.

Mud plastering workshop at Ohkay Owingeh (2012) for the Owe'neh Bupingeh Restoration Project. (Tania Hammidi, Photographer)

Tamping the earthen floor for Lone Tree at Dennehotso, Navajo Nation. (2017) Image Courtesy of DesignBuildBLUFF.

2018 Grant Recipient

Tonia Sing Chi
"Building Reciprocity:
A Grounded Theory of Participation
in Native American Housing and the Perpetuation of Earthen
Architectural Traditions

Preservation and design professionals have long advocated for the perpetuation of earthen architectural traditions in housing. This advocacy is driven by a commitment to cultural heritage as well as an interest in local context and labor, social and spatial justice, environmental stewardship, and an inquiry into the relevance of these traditions to contemporary society. Many practitioners contend with diverging paradigms of informal and formal architecture through foregrounding participatory processes, seeking lateral knowledge transfer, and expanding their professional roles to mediator and facilitator. However, there has been limited critical evaluation of community-driven approaches. Is participatory design and preservation a viable means of engaging larger social issues such as housing deficits and cultural devastation? Further, what are the dynamics and ethics of professional practice when engaging participatory processes and pre-industrial building traditions?

This thesis retheorizes the concept of participation in the perpetuation of earthen architectural traditions through a cross-sectional analysis of four case studies in tribal housing: (1) the preservation of Subhouse-2 between Taos Pueblo and World Monuments Fund; (2) the rehabilitation of Owe’neh Bupingeh between Ohkay Owingeh and Atkin Olshin Schade Architects; (3) the construction of PAHA House between Acoma Pueblo and Cornerstones Community Partnerships; and (4) the design and build of Lone Tree between Dennehotso Navajo Nation and DesignBuildBLUFF. In analyzing both the successes and shortcoming of these cases not as housing projects, but rather as relationships between professionals and tribal communities, this thesis will identify and challenge the dichotomies of western and indigenous approaches to preservation, expert-led and community-driven processes, culturally inappropriate and culturally appropriate design, contemporary and traditional lifestyles, tangible and intangible value, and professional expertise and local knowledge. While the dominant discourse on participation in preservation and design focuses on cultivating more meaningful participation from communities, this research suggests, in turn, the need to cultivate more meaningful and transparent participation from professionals, proposing an ethos for reciprocity in advancing collaborative partnerships and adaptive built environments.

Grant funding provided by Preservation Alumni assisted with cost of travel and field investigation that were necessary to complete the research. 

Past Fitch Grant recipients:

Cheng Liao, "Rethinking the Vernacular in China: Understanding the Dynamics of Social Transformation and the Evolution of Rural Architecture"

Alberto Sanchez-Sanchez, "Behind the Ecce Homo: Rural Development Policy and the Effects of Depopulation on the Preservation of Spanish Heritage"


Laura Groves, "Is there a Role for Preservation in a Favela?"

Emily Barr, "Pressing Issues: In-Kind Terra Cotta Replacement in the 21st Century"

Myun Song, "Wireless Sensing for Reinforced Concrete Structures and Concrete Repair"

Lorena Pérez Leighton, "1930s American Steel Houses: Modern Artifact or Traditional Dwelling?"

Susan Shay, "Cultural Landscape as Foil in Political Struggle"

Christine Huh, "The Bush Terminal Model Lofts and Early Reinforced Concrete Buildings on Brooklyn's Waterfront; Their Significance as Industrial Heritage"

Susie Jackson, "Natural Extractives as Wood Preservatives"

Takushi Yoshida, "Machine Aesthetics in Architecture: Adaptive-reuse of Grain Elevators in Buffalo as an Industrial Landscape"

Deborah Baldwin van Steen, "The Architecture of Calvin Pollard (1797-1850)"

Michael Caratzas, "Cross-Bronx: Preserving a Significant Urban Expressway and Its Megastructure"

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