Smithsonian Institution


National Museum of the American Indian, Cultural Resources Center

Suitland, Maryland

230,000 GSF, 21,368 M2

Architecture, Interior Architecture


Bright, airy and suffused with cultural and religious meaning, the Smithsonian's archival facility for the Native American museum houses more than 800,000 artifacts. SmithGroupJJR worked with Polshek and Partners to distill varied tribal traditions into a technical resource for historian, scholars and interested visitors.

The solution combines a museum conservation center and archival storage vault with precise environmental controls throughout - exactly 50 percent humidity at all times. Yet the first impression is of organic forms: pinecones, spider webs, and the chambered nautilus. Conceptually, the design draws on the four elements -- earth, water, fire and sky -- reflecting the connection of Native Americans to the land.

Landscaping draws the philosophy outdoors to a limestone amphitheater and plaza. Native plantings mark the site, which includes simulated wetlands. Indoors, modern conveniences and technologies merge in ample, daylit interiors. A library and a study area greet visiting scholars, with access to nearby conservation labs and photo studio.

Rich in meaning, the design reflects input from the Native American Design Collaborative and numerous tribes, which the architects actively sought.

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