PJHM Goes Walking: Mesa Verde National Park

(Post by Jeffrey Kuruvilla)

Recently I had the chance to visit a great example of Ancestral Puebloan architecture at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. The park contains several hundred dwellings built in some very unexpected places. Constructed from 600 to the 1300s, the architecture has found ways to endure not only in its materials but also in its adaptive and sustainable principles.

The most famous of Mesa Verde’s sites is Cliff Palace. Here a series of low sandstone towers containing presumed living, civic, and ceremonial areas are actually built into the underside of cliffs! These 150 units have a variety of sustainable features.


As  the dwellings all face south, the overhanging cliff provides shade for the structures in the summer when the sun’s path sits higher in the sky. During winter days, the sun’s path is lower and heats up the buildings.pjhm_blog_post_pjhmgoeswalking_mesa_verde_national_park_4

The thick sandstone retains heat and releases it hours later at night with colder temperatures. When I stuck my head into one of the windows during the tour on a 100-degree plus day, there was a significant coolness to the room—and that’s with no AC unit in sight!

The Puebloan people presumably used the sites in an adaptive and multi-usable manner. While there’s no written record of this, park historians believe farming, living, and ceremonial activities all took place within a short distance from one another. In the recent past, planning principles have prioritized returning to locally available goods and mixed-use buildings. This allows for less consumption of resources for transportation, limits unused space, and fosters dense community growth. These environments have led to much healthier living just through rethinking how building types are organized.


Many of PJHM’s designs incorporate these concepts of solar orientation, multi-functionality, and intelligent use of materials making our environments much more comfortable for the people in them. As buildings are designed to be increasingly durable and efficient, let’s hope they’ll be around for almost as long as the dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park have been.

Some Photos Copyright: Sopotnicki