David Sloan invited the Contemporary Indigenous Architecture class and the community into the sites where native architecture and planning were designed and into the buildings borne out of them.
The lecture series is in conjunction with the course being team taught by planning prof. Ted Jojola and architecture prof Eleni Bastea. Of special note, because the American Indian Council of Architects & Engineers and Iowa State University supplied funding, the course also features Lynn Paxson, Iowa State, as co-instructor. She will comment and mark-up assignments, participate in the seminar and coordinate student teams, and assist the primary instructors in grading. She will coordinate the Regional Practitioners Colloquium and the Student Colloquium.
David Sloan, Dine, of David Sloan Architects, is a 1976 graduate of the UNM architecture program and is a registered architect in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. In addition to showcasing some of his projects, he also shared the work of Lou Weller, Caddo, who also has his own architectural firm.
"Although we compete on various projects, we come together over the big ones," Sloan said, noting in particular the National Museum of the American Indian.
Sloan highlighted several projects and made a few points that stand out in my mind that I will share here.
The Nighthorse Campbell Native Health Building in Denver, Colo. Sloan talked about how the building, designed by M+O+A Architectural Partnership, possesses design elements from many native traditions. A visit to the Architectural Record website reveals greater details than Sloan had time to relate during the talk and more than my memory could hold onto.
The building's curved form tilts towards the campus's main drive. At its fulcrum is the entry, on axis with the winter solstice—reinforcing the American Indian tradition of solar orientation. The architect employed circular volumes elsewhere in the building to enclose a central rotunda, auditorium, and an outdoor "council ring." Each of these volumes is divided into seven sections that symbolize love, honor, courage, respect, honesty, reciprocity and family. The seven divisions are further divided four times, which yields the 28 divisions that symbolize the medicine wheel.
The building's surroundings and exterior architectural language reflects several different Native American nations. The outdoor council ring acts as a welcoming space for visitors. An exposed patch of earth at its core contains soil from the four cardinal points in the United States: Nome, Alaska; the Miccosukee Reservation, in Florida; the Passamaquoddy area in Maine; and the Feather Ring, in California. The building's façade, with its eight corner windows, reflects architectural traditions of the Plains, Pueblo and Alaskan nations. A central skylight, which caps an interior rotunda, reflects the aesthetic of the Blackfoot nation. The rotunda is 53 feet high and defined by seven poles, which recalls the seven poles of a teepee.
What I appreciated that Sloan shared was why the building represented so many native cultures and heritages. He explained that following his high school education, he was given $25 and a bus pass to San Francisco. It was an effort, he explained, to move the Indians off the reservation and urbanize them. For that reason, many large urban centers are home to Indians from all over the United States. The architects and designers who are knowledgeable of this history opt to feature it in design elements in buildings in the urban landscape.
Sloan showed pictures of the landscape of New Mexico and Arizona when talking about his heritage, his roots. He showed the mesas and the skies, he showed the deep cuts in the earth carved by the Colorado River. And he showed buildings designed to mimic those rugged features. He juxtaposed an image of an imposing mesa against a building that shares its angles and edges. In another set of slides, Sloan shows a building shaped like a turtle.
He explained how people who live in wide open spaces become accustomed to seeing the weather roll in. They know what kind of rain to expect. They see the mammoth rock formations on the horizon. By contrast, people who live in forested areas tend to see what is up close, what is near. They cannot cast their eyes upon wide open spaces, so they see the details in what is in front of them. At that point he shared the image of a building designed in the shape of a turtle. It featured marvelous cutouts in the roof of the "shell" where light could come in.
I wish I could find my favorite building on the web. I believe it was one of Weller's designs that revisits the hogan shape and intimacy into the design of a building's entrance. The seating around the curved wall, the beautiful designs displayed above them and curving features that give a sense of movement and time all come together to give a genuine sense of place.
Jojola asked Sloan why he became an architect. He studied carpentry, he said, in San Francisco where his $25 and ticket took him. But when it came time to do an apprenticeship, he couldn't get in because they wouldn't take minorities. He'd been good in school. Tried engineering – too regimented. Architecture provided both the science and physics that he grew up with coupled with artistic elements.
I know that next week I'll be there to hear the lecture, but I plan to bring a notebook because my memory isn't so good and it's harder than I thought to find the buildings on the web.
Media contact: Carolyn Gonzales, 277-5920; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org