National Museum of the American Indian

Client: Smithsonian Institute

Location: Washington, DC

Cost: 199 million USD

Completed: September 2004

The National Museum of the American Indian was established in 1989 by an Act of Congress championed by Senator Inouye and Congressman Nighthorse Campbell. As part of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, the Museum gives a strong presence to the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The Smithsonian recognized Douglas Cardinal’s experience in building the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and his intimate knowledge in aboriginal values and culture, and selected him as architect in partnership with Philadelphia firm GBQC.

The museum is a majestic curvilinear form that represents the nurturing female forms of Mother Earth, and complements the facing National Gal-lery by IM Pei An inviting, cavern-like threshold opens into the large Potomac - a gathering space for Native Americans to celebrate and share their rich culture with all visitors. In order to stimulate the imaginations of all decision makers, a Vision Session was held and involved the participation of official stakeholders, Elders of North and South American tribes, and many political and cultural icons and private funders such as the Rockefeller family. This sort of collaboration resulted in a building with sweeping curves, rich symbolism, and warm stone that truly welcomes and inspires Americans and the world about Indigenous cultures.