New Architecture on Indigenous LandsMay 2nd, 2015 | By Jon Carver | Category: 26-4: Tribal College Governance, Media Reviews
By Joy Monice Malnar and Frank Vodvarka
University of Minnesota Press (2013)
Review by Jon Carver
Authors Joy Monice Malnar and Frank Vodvarka open their book New Architecture on Indigenous Lands with an extended quotation from the Lakota holy man Black Elk: “Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle.” They point out that Black Elk’s worldview finds equal expression in the circular design principles of Lakota architecture, and that his assessments and solutions concerning his people are essentially voiced in the terms of holistic design practice.
The introduction provides historical and philosophical context for the 56 North American architectural projects on Native lands detailed in the book and loosely groups them in ten chapters by region and/or function. Through extensive and often stunning color photographs, architectural elevations, and diagrams each project is detailed from the unique historical and cultural perspectives of the community it serves. From the beautiful greeting and trading house of the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay—a six-beam longhouse with a glass rather than traditional cedar plank roof—to the colorfully striated rammed-earth walls of the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Center of the Osoyoos Band in British Columbia, these award-winning projects are as varied as the communities they serve.
The authors quote tribal members and architects with an emphasis on the direct links between stakeholders’ cultural values and design decisions. The focus is on the aesthetics and functionality of the architecture as it relates to, or is derived from, a particular people or group of peoples. The text explores settings and structures that serve singular communities, like the brightly painted adobe Plaza of the Tsigo Bugeh Village in Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico, or larger regional projects that function for people from a wider array of backgrounds like the American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City, which takes its circular form in part from the mound-building practices familiar to the Five Nations of the region.
Other highlights include the soaring stone wings of the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum in La Plata County, Colorado, and renderings by Native architect Douglas Cardinal (Métis/Blackfoot) of the pleasingly biomorphic Native Student Space at the University of Saskatchewan, currently under construction. As the authors state, there is much to celebrate in recent Indigenous architecture. The triumph of their survey is that it elegantly and intelligently offers proof positive that when Indigenous cultural values drive contemporary architectural practices many good things happen.
Jon Carver teaches art history at the Institute of American Indian Arts.