A local architect, female business owner and descendent of the Cochiti Pueblo, is bringing her unique perspective to The University of New Mexico by co-hosting an architecture studio.


It’s not like Elizabeth “Buffy” Suina doesn’t have anything else to do. She is the principal in her own firm, Suina Design + Architecture LLC, which is a Native American woman-owned business. Suina is from Cochiti Pueblo; and is working with the students to address some amenities for Zuni Pueblo.

Zuni sits on a busy thoroughfare, NM Highway 53, which happens to be a State Scenic Byway. The Pueblo was the first Native American community to be designated a MainStreet Community in the United States in 2012 by New Mexico MainStreet (NMMS). NMMS is a program of the state Economic Development Department, dedicated to helping communities create economically viable business environments.

Zuni also received Art Place funding to explore ways to improve Zuni’s economy and promote its art and artists. It partnered with the UNM School of Architecture & Planning’s Indigenous Design + Planning Institute (iD+Pi), which brought Suina on-board for the studio.

“We are looking at everything from landscaping and shade structures to landmarks, cultural points of interest and crosswalks – important because they add a level of safety. We want to use color and native graphics because Zuni has a strong arts community,” Suina said. She added that trees and LED lighting are some other ideas they want to bring to the table, with many more being added by the students every time they meet.

Bike lanes and benches are ideas from student Al Ameen, who is teaming up with another student, Maria Estrada.

“I am looking at key sites to improve and she is looking at sites to be built. Among places to be built are places for artists to sell their work, and do demonstrations,” Ameen said.

Another student, Joe Frayre, took on the artist’s mindset. He is interested in designing a gallery that houses a studio space where tourists can enjoy artists’ demonstration of their work. He is keen on signage that designates the pueblo’s historic district; and is encouraging the artists to take photos of their work and post them on Facebook, or create an artists’ Facebook page.

“I thought about the many forms of art in Zuni – through the church, dancing, kachinas and the colors and combined all of it into an analysis of culture. It was something that the artists could relate to because they are always competing with one another to make their art stand out,” he said.

“We are looking to elevate the Zuni experience,” Suina added. “When people come buy artwork, they want to share that with others. Take pictures and share them.”

Francisco Uviña co-teaches the course. He recognizes both the strengths and challenges Zuni Pueblo faces.

Collaborative project
Elizabeth Suina and Francisco Uviña discuss plans for Zuni MainStreet.

“They produce amazing art work, but the people driving through don’t slow down enough to even know that. It is difficult to know what the pueblo has without signage and without parking that encourages people to stop,” he said.

He said that there will always be a market for nice art, but there is room for more.

“Some people just want a mug that says ‘I went to Zuni’ and how to get there. They can merge the modern with the traditional,” he said.

Uviña is teaching a Summer Southwest Institute design/build course this year.

“We are looking at aspects of Zuni Main Street that can be built or can grow. During the two weeks, we will do a prototype and document a historic Zuni house. It will help the students learn about preservation and design in traditional communities,” he said, adding that what will ultimately be built in Zuni will be built mostly at UNM and then taken out there to set up along Main Street or the art walk.

Suina said that the students are designing hardscapes – for parking or sidewalks.

“We are also designing signage, both for the locals and for visitors. Some of the student groups are proposing a guided art walk. Signage would also be used to show visitors which homes are open to business since many artists work from home,” she said.

The students also looked at Gallup’s Main Street.

“Gallup is building on its successes. We are looking at Zuni’s vacant buildings, topography, commerce mapping and nodes of activity and finding ways to tie them together, as they have in Gallup,” Suina said.

The students studied other tourist towns, taking ideas from bike rentals, bike lanes and bike tours. They think those would be good for visitors, but also for the locals because they promote exercise and healthy lifestyles.

Suina worked with Zuni’s housing authority before and sees potential in overlapping services within facilities.

“I work with a lot of tribes. They are generally methodical and conservative. They don’t usually have much funding which means having to wait to finish projects. This summer, we have a budget of $14,000 that we will use to try to finish three concrete projects, while also looking for additional funding,” Suina said.

“If some good can come out of this studio, I will do whatever I can. I’ve got to do this for Zuni’s economy,” she said.