Project Honors Navajo Code Talkers

Nov. 4, 2015

The story of the Navajo code talkers is one of heroism and sacrifice that has not always been told, but University of Arizona students in the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture are playing a part in revealing this piece of history through their work.

The code talkers were bilingual Navajo speakers specially recruited during World War II by the U.S. Marines Corps to serve in communications units in the war's Pacific Theater. The code talkers transmitted secret tactical messages over military telephone or radio communications networks, using codes based on their native language.

The 12 architecture students are designing a veterans center and museum near Window Rock, Arizona, to honor these American heroes, working in collaboration with the Navajo Code Talkers Association. The team is composed of students from different backgrounds and interests, including two exchange students from England.

"We’re helping our students cultivate the tools required to go out into the professional world and fundraise, engage with professional architects and designers, and determine what is needed to help get this project off the ground,” said Bradley Lang, their mentor and a lecturer in the School of Architecture.

The project gives the students an opportunity to leave their mark on the community.

"After being in school and dealing with learning these things theoretically, it is great to be able to apply what we’ve been learning about," said senior Amanda Schwarz. "It is so meaningful to work directly with the clients and be impacted by their story."

The project was chosen for funding through the Office of Student Engagement because of its unique design and mission.

"The selection committee appreciated the plan to prepare students for professional architecture careers with a project that addresses a real community need," said Abra McAndrew, executive director for online program development and student engagement initiatives. "It is an excellent example of how the Office of Student Engagement provides students with a 100% Engagement opportunity — applying their training to a real-world project, impacting our community and the state of Arizona."

The final version of the plan is scheduled to be presented in early December.