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Indigenous Planning Process In Action At The Native American Cultural Center, AZ

Indigenous Planning Process in action at the Native American Cultural Center, AZ

Bravo to Studio Ma on their engaging process. Gathering community perspectives is one of the biggest challenges to indigenous architecture today. The process can impact schedule and budget, and requires a unique set of skills, which not every architect has been exposed to or is comfortable with.  But finding methods to successfully tap into community knowledge, provides a reservoir of design inspiration. Take for example the themes developed by Studio Ma during this process: Ancestors + Emergence (Spiral), Natural Flows (Rivers), Time + Place (Spiral and Sun Path) and Life Journeys (Trail of Tears).

Focus groups and design charettes were held with faculty, students, staff and alumni over the two year design process. Additionally, all 22 of the Arizona tribes were invited to campus to discuss the centre and provide input into the process. Unique to this process were the following:

  • The architects redrew details during the meetings until consensus was reached; at the end of each meeting, they would get sign-off by the users and stakeholders.
  • In the event that not all design pieces could be accommodated by the budget, the community was responsible for ranking the pieces or elements in order of preference.
  • To keep the community informed, the renderings of the evolving design were displayed at various community events.

Ted Jojola (Isleta Pueblo) was then asked to be a part of the design family of NACC. Jojola is founder of the Indigenous Design + Planning Institute and a cofounder of the Indigenous Planning Division of the American Planning Association.  He initiated further participatory methods into the process. Once the stakeholders were identified, one-on-one interviews were held and from there they decided on a series of meetings. The meetings were three-or four-day workshops, which went beyond the standard design process, asking the participants to draw: “I want you to draw a symbol that you think represents the kind of idea that you think you would like to see in this building” (Ibid, p.221).

The drawings became the building blocks, as metaphors, to represent the building. From these, the basic principles, ideas and values were emerging. Jojola selected a few of the drawings and engaged the users for a second reiteration. From there a cultural typology was developing and that cultural typology “became the way to start discussing the why, where, and how of this building” (Ibid, p.221).


Image credit: Drawing found in: Malnar J. and F. Vodvarka (2013). New Architecture on Indigenous Lands, p.221. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Architect: Studio Ma

Photos: Studio Ma:

Copyright: the photographs belong to the above mentioned party; they are used here solely for the purposes of comment, teaching, scholarship, and/or research.

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