The range of traditional American Indian housing types includes multistory adobe dwellings, hogans, tepees, wickiups, the residential earthworks of the mound builders, the enormous wood houses of the Wakeshan people of Vancouver Island, and the cedar-planked, shed-roof houses of the Makah people in Neah Bay, Washington. Those Makah structures no longer exist. The people were forced by missionaries and government agents to pull most of them down a century ago, and the obliteration was completed by the U.S. military during World War I. However, some of the tribe’s new buildings honor what was lost.
One that is highlighted in New Architecture on Indigenous Lands (University of Minnesota Press) is the Makah Cultural and Research Center designed by Fred Bassetti and Company Architects, Seattle, and Canadian designer Jean Jacques André. It houses many of the 55,000 artifacts that were buried in a mudslide more than 500 years ago and then uncovered by tidal erosion in 1970. The building is of traditional red cedar, including in the horizontal planks that recall a Makah meetinghouse of old.
The book’s authors are Joy Monice Malnar, associate professor of architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, and Frank Vodvarka, professor of fine arts at Loyola University, Chicago. The two previously collaborated on The Interior Dimension: A Theoretical Approach to Enclosed Space and Sensory Design. Their interest in the indigenous-lands project stemmed from a 2004 road trip along the Pacific Coast. They were particularly inspired during visits to Makah country and to the Hupa and Yurok reservations in California.
“Exciting things are happening,” they report in the introduction, “especially since responsibility for new construction has increasingly been turned over to tribal authorities.” One example of this is the pavilion at New Mexico’s Bosque Redondo Memorial, designed by David N. Sloan (Navajo), which incorporates the forms of the Navajo hogan and Mescalero Apache tepee.
Another is the Santa Ana Tribal Government Complex by Thomas E. Coppedge of Weller Architects, Albuquerque. The firm, led by Louis L. Weller (Caddo-Cherokee), specializes in “unique and culturally sensitive design issues related to indigenous peoples.” A dominant feature of the Santa Ana building is a central round form that easily brings to mind a kiva, the traditional Pueblo ceremonial space.
Sculptor George Rivera, who is now the governor of Pojoaque Pueblo, started thinking about the need for a cultural center and museum in 1987. Its missions would be cultural preservation, arts training, and revitalization. The preliminary plan was drawn up by the Santa Fe architectural firm McHugh, Lloyd & Tryk, but the tribal council ultimately formed its own construction company, Pojoaque Pueblo Construction Services Corporation. The design and construction of the Poeh Cultural Center and Museum complex was completed by that company’s chief, Joel McHorse Sr. (Pojoaque), Rivera, architect Dennis Holloway, and Vernon Lujan (Taos/Tesuque).
The center incorporates classrooms; pottery, jewelry, and sculpture studios; the museum; administrative offices; and the iconic, four-story adobe tower, all arranged around plazas in traditional Pueblo fashion. State-of-the-art lighting, heating, and humidity-control facilities are hidden away in a basement, where they don’t interfere with the aesthetics of the interior spaces, including spruce, Douglas fir, and pine ceiling beams. “It’s today’s technology, but the core and the base is Pueblo culture: stone, mud, and wood,” Rivera told the authors. Architect Douglas Cardinal (Blackfoot-Métis) is known for often employing a “centroidal” design approach. It’s evident in the 1973 Rossignol School in Île à la Crosse, Saskatchewan. He sited the classrooms in a trio of dodec- ahedral buildings around a central common area. The circular design — which was shaped with a high level of participation by students, parents, and faculty — “dispels the feeling of helplessness, of aloneness, of being boxed in,” according to a local evaluation made shortly after the school’s completion.
In The Architecture of Douglas Cardinal, Trevor Boddy writes that many of Cardinal’s buildings “employ landscape and geological imagery and metaphors” rather than the more common historical references. His design for the First Nations University of Canada in Regina is described as a “four-story building that faces south in a semicircular design that, like the Sundance Lodge, embraces the sun’s warmth and light and signifies that all beings are connected.”
Incidentally, this building’s rounded forms resemble the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., which features design elements by Cardinal as well as by Johnpaul Jones (Cherokee-Choctaw), Donna House (Diné/Oneida), and Santa Fe’s Ramona Sakiestewa (Hopi). The authors address European-oriented biases in their discussion of new architecture on indigenous lands. “Central to the western position is the assumption that the traditions of indigenous peoples — indeed, traditions generally — produce a narrow range of design possibilities,” they write. “Unfortunately, western-trained architects who have been commissioned to design for these cultures have often had difficulty in departing from design assumptions based on essentially abstract criteria. One obvious solution — seldom relied upon historically — would be to include the culture concerned in the design process itself.”
That’s certainly not a stretch, since the architect is designing for the community. Antoine Predock of Albuquerque did just that with the Indian Community School of Milwaukee. Designed with consultant Chris Cornelius (Oneida), it features a “flying origamic copper roof” on the two-story sections and limestone-block walls.
Steel supporting columns were disguised by wrapping them with halved and hollowed-out tree trunks, “with proper ceremonies and blessing,” according to Cornelius. “The thing we tried to do here was to think about what the cultural values are and translate them into archi- tecture.” Not easy, especially since the program called for avoiding iconography relating to the students’ 11 tribal affiliations.
“Some people have a bit of a hard time when they look at this building; they ask why it is really Indian, until you start to talk about it … ultimately it does not have any resonance with the culture unless it is experiential,” Cornelius said.
One of the projects highlighted by the authors addressed a critical housing problem at Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. The community’s leaders knew from experience that relying on federal funding often resulted in buildings that were not only substandard but nontraditional; in fact, federal policy calls for subdivision-style homes spaced at least 100 feet apart, quite different from the traditional homes in the pueblo.
Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority director Tomasita Duran sought input on a new housing project from community elders. Architect Jamie Blosser relates that meetings were held with Pueblo storytellers and tribal leaders to hear what it was like growing up in the old pueblo. “We also asked the people attending the meetings about their values: family, social, and spiritual. We asked what materials were important to them and how their homes could support their lifestyles.”
Blosser, who is with Atkin Olshin Schade Architects, Philadelphia and Santa Fe, came to the project courtesy of the Enterprise Foundation’s Frederick P. Rose Architectural Fellowship. Her accomplishments include forming a planning committee and obtaining a grant to do a long-range master plan, which was completed by Moule Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists, based in Pasadena, California.
The program’s first project, Tsigo bugeh Village, was completed in 2003. It consists of 40 housing units, both market-rate and affordable, arranged around a plaza. Winner of a 2004 EPA National Award for Smart Growth Achievement, it is lauded as a model of culturally appropriate, affordable design. That success was an impetus for an adjunct project involving the rehabilitation of old, existing homes on the centuries-old pueblo. Shawn Evans, another Atkin Olshin Schade associate, put together a set of historic- preservation guidelines that have been employed on the house renovations. Blosser expanded on the type of work done at Ohkay Owingeh when she founded the Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative.
There is nothing in New Architecture on Indigenous Lands about the recent buildings at the Santa Fe Indian School and the Institute of American Indian Arts, presumably because those campuses are not on Native lands. Douglas Cardinal was hired to do the master plan for the IAIA campus, but it was only vaguely followed — in part because of budget constraints, according to the school’s archivist, Ryan Flahive.
In 1999, project coordinator Paul Fragua (Jemez) told Pasatiempo that the school had in mind “to incorporate Native elements such as man’s relationship to the earth and the universe. So you see the central plaza and radiating outward from the center point of the plaza, concentric circles, like a stone dropped in a pond. The rings show up in the buildings and the curved wall then out to a larger one of the sacred peaks in the distance. It reflects the IAIA program radiating out to Santa Fe and the world.”
The IAIA Lifelong Education Conference & Residence Center (2007) and Science & Technology and Sculpture & Foundry buildings (2010) were designed by the Native American-owned Dyron Murphy Architects, Albuquerque.
Among the dozens of other fascinating projects that are treated in New Architecture on Indigenous Lands are the straw-bale Hopi Nation Elder Homes in northern Arizona, the Oneida Maple Sugar Camp in Wisconsin, the Oujé-Bougoumou Village in Quebec, and an eagle sanctuary at the Pueblo of Zuni. ◀
“New Architecture on Indigenous Lands,” by Joy Monice Malnar and Frank Vodvarka, is published by University of Minnesota Press.