Blake Chambliss graduated from the undergraduate architecture program in 1956. Chambliss is to be honored as the Distinguished Alumnus of the School of Architecture and Planning, at an event on Friday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m.

Among those to honor Chambliss is Don Schlegel. Schlegel is a first dean of the School of Architecture and Planning. His tenure at UNM predated the founding of the architecture school. When Chambliss attended UNM, architecture was a program within the School of Engineering. It migrated to the College of Fine Arts before the School of Architecture and Planning was established in 1971.

Chambliss established himself in his own firm in Grand Junction, Colo., which he maintained for 25 years. He then made a location and career change. "I left my office and went to work with non-profits doing affordable housing," he said. He also moved to Denver. "I moved from a traditional architecture career to focus on social justice through housing for the poor and homeless," he said.

His previous architectural work – designing buildings for banks and businesses – had included housing. In housing, he felt a greater connection to people. "Using my background in architecture, I could humanize the process and focus on the people rather than bankers or developers," he said.

Architects use the charrette process to engage people in shaping what they will use. "As Churchill said, 'We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.

He also had a skill set that proved beneficial to the Colorado Housing Authority. He was asked to serve on the board. "They needed to understand where resources are available to make projects happen. They didn't know they had multiple options and by involving the community, we found available funding," Chambliss said.

His motivation was to make the process for developing public housing fair and just.

"It was something I learned from Don Schlegel," Chambliss said. "He taught us that people are more important than buildings. He said that the people you are designing for are the most important design criteria. That was the message I got from the beginning at UNM. Architecture is to serve the community, not elevate abstract ideas of design," he said.

Chambliss added that Schlegel raised up the small department beyond a narrow focus of architecture. "When I graduated, Don Schlegel pushed me to go on and get a graduate degree. I got accepted at the Harvard Graduate School of Design," he said. He earned his master's in 1960.

One of Chambliss's first projects was to design housing for the state home for the developmentally disabled in Grand Junction. "I worked with the superintendent who had strong ideas about the way the students were treated. He said that it was their goal to teach them what they are capable of learning," he said.

The state didn't have money for transportation, but the superintendent was determined that Chambliss have an understanding of the importance of the project and the people. "He would pick me up at 5 in the morning and we would drive to Denver, check out two or three projects and drive back. We didn't get home until midnight," Chambliss said, adding, "He really wanted me to see how important it is to treat developmentally disabled people as real people and not categorize them."

He said that the experience was "insightful and impactful." It shaped how he views architecture. "I would ask myself, 'What are their needs? Do they live differently, or not?" he said.

When he was asked to develop housing on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the residents were concerned that they wouldn't be able to provide input into the project. "In charrettes they told us what they wanted. We built homes that respected that. They own both the structures and the context that came from their views of the world. I began to understand that," he said.

Among the awards and honors that Chambliss has received is the United Nations Operation Habitat Recognition Award for AIA's "Search for Shelter," "in appreciation of its efforts in helping develop affordable housing for all"; Peacemaker Award, Rocky Mountain Conference, United Church of Christ,"for his creative and tireless efforts to educate, advocate and mobilize for housing justice"; and the 9 Who Care Award "for educating Coloradans about the need for affordable housing".

In his roles on housing boards and committees, Chambliss keeps the people in mind. His role now is to educate and inform policy makers and politicians. As an architect, community leader, and social justice advocate, he assists state, tribal and local housing and community development entities to create affordable housing for their most vulnerable populations.

Media Contact: Carolyn Gonzales (505) 277-5920; email: