A recent trip to visit the remote West Texas town of Ft. Davis reminded me of the importance of vernacular architecture - and how far away we've come from designing with the environment in mind. Hidden in the heart of Ft. Davis State Park is a gem of a hotel known as the Indian Lodge. Run by the state parks service, the Indian Lodge was first conceived as Indian Village in 1934 as a 16-room hotel on the north slope of Keesey Canyon in the Davis Mountains.
Workers came from Houston in 1933 to build the hotel. Rather than building the hotel out of lumber as was common in Houston, laborers were educated by local experts to use adobe blocks for the walls and rough hewn timber beams for the ceilings. Arthur Fehr of Austin was one of the architects for the original design. The layout featured blocks of rooms based around courtyards of various elevations connected by stairs and planters. It was important to build out of adobe since the adobe blocks - made of mud and straw - came from locally abundant natural resources. In the dry, hot climate of West Texas, the adobe walls absorb heat throughout the day and slowly release the heat through the cool evenings.
Over the next 80 years the hotel remained largely preserved as it was conceived. In 1965 there was an expansion that added 24 rooms and a dining hall. In the mid 1980's the hotel underwent a poorly conceived modernization that was (thankfully) removed when it was tastefully remodelled in 2006. Today the hotel stands as a charming reminder that good architecture is timeless and functions with the environment.