Johnson Fain Architects took their intertribal explorations in a different direction. Referred to as an ‘ideological union’ (Ibid, p. 127), the design attempts to accommodate a large geography of cultural groups from the Five Nations of the Southeastern tribes, the Caddo in Oklahoma and the Plains tribes to the west (Cheyanne, Arapahoes, Wichitas, Kiowas, Apaches and Comanches). Further complicating the process was a number of traditional precedents to reconcile: the tipi, the longhouse and the Woodlands dwellings.
Inspiration was found by researching regional mound architecture and local landscapes. The challenge was to create an environment that would resonate and be inclusive of all tribes. In this aim, “the site was organized into riverine, woodland and plains, the prototypical landscapes which, taken together, define the totality of native homelands” (Ibid, p. 125). The architect concluded:
While countless and important distinctions between tribes exist and the Center provides a platform for tribes to express those individual traditions, the design process for us was not an act of imitation or historical representation per se, but rather the creation of a new armature which would provide native peoples the opportunity to tell and create their stories (Ibid, p. 127).
Some would argue that a generalized ‘Native American Architecture’ isn’t possible, serving only to dilute individual cultural identities (Ibid, p. 127) or even to detribalize tribal people (Ibid p. 226). Dr. Craig Howe, Director of The Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies (www.nativecairns.org) supports the following method: “Intertribal activities, if they are to be successful, require choice and agreement: choice from the side array of tribal and non-tribal options, and agreement, within the intertribal community, to accept the choice(s)” (Ibid, p. 226).
Again, whether the decision is to forge a larger alliance between nations with a pan-regional design concept, or to attempt a blending of distinct elements that represent each tribe, it is a decision that should be made in consultation with the users, client representatives and stakeholders.
Image credits: Entrance: http://perceptivetravel.com/blog/2010/11/11/a-dream-in-progress-american-indian-cultural-center-and-museum-in-oklahoma-city/. Exterior: http://www.theamericanindiancenter.org/designplanning-team.