Exploring Cultural Expression in Contemporary Native American and Indigenous Architecture
The University of Arizona’s strategic plan describes the establishment of a Native-designed space recognizing and promoting the cultural distinctiveness, contributions, and significance of Native Americans. The Center will serve as a cultural center, meeting place, hub of interdisciplinary research, advocacy and community outreach for Native American students, staff, and tribal communities.
To advance this initiative, research was conducted by two students from the School of Architecture, Kaya Orona (Chihene Nde Chiricahua Apache, BArch ‘23) and Daniel Vega (Pascua Yaqui Tribe, MArch ‘24), under the faculty advisement of Laura Carr. This work was completed with support from Levi Esquerra, Senior Vice President for Native American Advancement and Tribal Engagement and Claudia Nelson, Director of the Native People’s Technical Assistance Office. The focus of this research has been to explore how other institutions have approached similar centers, how Native American and Indigenous places are expressed in contemporary architecture, and what combination of spaces, exhibits, programs, amenities and people could be housed in the center.
To accomplish this, first a survey was conducted among the UArizona’s Native American and Indigenous community to determine preferences regarding programming, style, and location of the center. Second, example projects were identified from across the United States and Canada. Featured here are a selection of projects, including their process of design and programming, their engagement with their surroundings and community, and explanation of how they considered a holistic approach in identifying the programming and amenities needed to ensure the success and long term resilience of the community served. In all instances, architecture plays an important role in that it can visually and experientially express ideas in aspirational and iconic ways, it can incorporate methods and elements that teach and lead by example, and it can create a home, where Indigenous students, faculty, staff and tribal communities are welcome.
The UArizona Center will be an assemblage of unique spaces, exhibits, programs, and amenities. The projects selected for this webpage are intended to inspire our community to Imagine the Possibilities!