Built Environment Reference


In French, the term cul-de-sac literally means "bottom of the bag." In English it usually refers to a dead-end street, but can also be applied to any pathway, for example a rock crevice, that only has one opening and is closed at the other end.

ghost hole

According to the Navajo belief system, which involves strict taboos regarding death, if a person dies inside a dwelling place rather than outside in an open space, the structure becomes contaminated and must be abandoned. When someone dies inside a hogan, it is also believed that their spirit (or chindi) may get trapped within the walls of the house. In order to release the chindi, a hole is created in the northern wall of the hogan. After the ghost hole (also known as the corpse hole) is punched in the northern wall, the body of the dead may then be taken out of the structure to be buried or left in the hogan if the ground is too frozen to dig a grave. The hogan is then rendered uninhabitable, and is either left to decay, or is burned down. If the hogan is left abandoned, all openings other than the corpse hole are closed in order to warn others that the dwelling has been contaminated by death.


In architecture, a lintel refers to the horizontal stone slab or wooden beam that is placed on top of the two vertical supports of a door, an entryway, or a gate. A lintel can be a structural feature or a decorative one, and often functions as both.

In the traditional hogan, a common dwelling structure for Navajo peoples in the U.S. Southwest, a heavy blanket is often hung from the wood lintel log to form a door that can keep the inside warm in cold weather, but can also be easily removed as necessary.


Windmills are structures that use spinning vanes, sales, or blades in order to convert the force of wind into energy and/or power. Different versions of the windmill have been used for centuries. Before the widespread use of electricity, windmills were used to mill grain and pump water. More recently, windmills in the format of wind turbines have been used as a more energy efficient and environmentally friendly tool for generating electricity.

A specific water-pumping windmill on joint-use territory land between the Hopi and Navajo reservations becomes the subject of major conflict in Hillerman's novel The Dark Wind. This windmill is occasionally referred to by its very specific identifier: Windmill Number 6.

smoke hole

In the traditional construction of a hogan, the Diné dwelling house, a hole is cut in the roof in order to let smoke from the hearth fire below out of the room. The hole is usually placed off-center and aligned above the rock slab that serves as a hearth so that as the smoke rises it leaves the residence. In later, more modern hogans, flues that facilitated the removal of smoke directly from the rock-slab or adobe hearth have replaced the hole in the roof.

washboard road

A long stretch of unmaintained dirt road that is corrugated by closely-spaced ripples. The rippling occurs on some old unpaved roads over time as a result of dry weather conditions and continuous friction created by wheels moving quickly over loose sand and gravel. Washboard roads can be uncomfortable, and even dangerous to travel over, due to repeated bouncing created by the uneven surface, which can damage vehicles.

loading dock

A raised area located at the rear of some businesses and institutional buildings such as stores, factories, schools, or hospitals. Loading docks give service trucks direct access to storage rooms so that they can load or unload products and supplies. Because the dock is roughly at the level of the truck bed itself, it is relatively easy to move items.

roofing paper

Also known as roofing felt or tar paper, roofing paper is made of either heavy-duty paper or fiberglass mat that is soaked in tar or asphalt to produce a waterproof material. This material is used as an insulating layer in roof construction, and is normally laid in sheets over the wooden sheathing of the house and under the exterior shingles.

brush shelter

A brush shelter is a temporary dwelling made of branches, grass, and other plant materials. It is used primarily for sleeping or storage and has ties to many Native American tribes. Brush shelters often have open sides, and the main frame of the shelter is made of branches.

In Navajo culture, brush shelters can also be referred to as summer hogans, which are constructed when families follow sheep as they are moved to higher, cooler pastures during the summer. Brush shelters have also been called ramadas, although ramadas may also be constructed as more permanent structures than the typical brush shelter.

Bureau of Indian Affairs Office, Gallup, New Mexico

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is part of the United States Department of the Interior established March 11, 1824. The mission of this bureau is to provide services to the 566 currently federally-recognized Native American tribes and Alaska Natives in the United States. The BIA also administers and manages over 55 million acres of land within the U.S. The BIA is one of two bureaus under the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, the other being the Bureau of Indian Education.

The Gallup, NM office is one of the five BIA agencies on the Navajo Nation Reservation. Officially called the Navajo Regional Office, this is the central agency and is responsible for supervising services for the entire reservation.


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