30 Comment

  • I love this building, interior and exterior. It’s beautiful.

  • eff the building its all about the cafeteria. buffalo tacos on fry bread. mmm

  • i LOVE this building. imo, the museum is not curated well, but the building itself is just a delight.

    oh, and YES to the indian tacos. that cafeteria is so awesome.

  • Very cool building. Agree that the content doesn’t necessarily do American Indians justice, but the building itself does the museum proud.

  • I hate this building with the heat of a thousand bonfires! The vernacular is so wrong for this area. The color, the shape, the stone used all speak of Indian tribes from the far south west. The scale is far too grandiose for the style. It’s a big, hulking, F-U to its neighbors – not that all of its neighbors are beauty queens.
    All in all, I could happily live out my days in the neglected, polychromed 1876 Exposition Hall (or whatever they were calling it before it closed).

  • The exterior of the building is quite striking. I’m not sure it is the most natural fit with the Mall, but it does not look particularly discordant amidst the architectural mishmash along that stretch of Independence Ave.

    Interior of the building, particularly the entry atrium, is also quite striking. The only reason I’ve ever been in the building is to eat lunch; as referenced by several of the prior commenters, the exhibits in the building hold no particular appeal. (And why this sort of collection is in downtown Washington at all is a mystery from a curatorial standpoint, if not a political one.)

  • Absolutely loath the building. Inside is even worse than the exterior. It feels like it was designed by the same folks who financed it — Indian casinos.

  • I love the building too! It’s a really evocative structure. Anyone know anything about who designed it?

  • Those water features are slowly becoming a mini-ecosystem … I saw a (possibly confused) egret fishing in one of them a few weeks ago.

  • Fantastic building. I always feel like i might run across the lost Anasazis when i am around it. agree that despite it being unlike anything else in the area, it doesn’t really seem disharmonious.

  • Sammy–

    Douglas Cardinal, a Canadian Blackfoot.

  • JohnnyReb, not sure why you think the building evokes the Southwest. It is made of Kasota limestone from southern Minnesota.

    I like the building, but I think others are right in that the museum leaves something to be desired on the inside. The exhibit they had on Native American dresses a year ago was fantastic though!

  • I love this building. It is not meant to evoke the native environment of the National Mall, it is meant to evoke the native lands of indigenous peoples–a great many of whom did not reside in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Nothing on the mall relates to its landscape or the environment–the entire mall landscape was redefined to suit the designers’ vision and the Neo-Classical architecture are meant to evoke ‘democratic’ ideals. The architect, btw, was GBQC Architects, from Philadelphia (they’ve now merged with Cubellis).

    I’m curious if the low opinions about the curating would change if PoP readers realized that each tribe was given the same amount of space and allowed to decide for themselves what they wanted to display in that space. One tribe uses their entire space to explain the symbolism and meaning of the eagle in their culture; another has a chronological history of their tribe; another has biographies of prominent leaders in their tribe. Just travelling through the museum and seeing how many different ways native peoples chose to present themselves to the world (for once, not interpreted by white people) is fascinating.

    Agree that the cafe is fantastic.

  • Douglas Cardinal isn’t the architect. He was originally chosen but ‘removed’ from the project early on because of friction with the rest of the team.

  • Love the building. The exhibits – I don’t even know where to start besides WTF. I understand that the Natives wanted to bring alot of today into the museum and focus on the good but really how can you just gloss over the whole trail of tears for example and the multitude of other things the Americans did to them.

  • Naomi–there are dozens of museums and historical sites to document the ‘trail of tears’ and other attrocities, if that is what you want to learn about.

    The history of these tribes is so long though, that that period in their history is just a speck in time. To focus only on that would be like telling your life story by explaining what you did today.

    Not to mention the fact that not all tribes had such a violent encounter with western peoples. These exhibits are meant to show you exactly that–that your perception of native peoples is very very skewed by the history you were taught.

  • saf

    “I’m curious if the low opinions about the curating would change if PoP readers realized that each tribe was given the same amount of space and allowed to decide for themselves what they wanted to display in that space.”

    I already knew that, and no, it actually makes it worse.

    I like the idea, but I think with no interpretation, it loses much. I find it astounding that none of the tribes chose to actually curate an educational exhibit, as opposed to setting up a display.

  • Anon 5:10pm – so in your catergorization is then the hallocaust just a speck in time?

  • The first time I visited this place was when it opened. And I was disgusted by the major firearms display. I did not want to learn about the US Army. So now I go back at Thanksgiving for the wonderful food. But that’s it.

  • Yes, Naomi, the H-o-l-o-c-a-u-s-t was a speck in time. An important one, and one that is told in many places in the world, in books and museums. Just as the trail of tears is.

    As said earlier, the tribes were allowed to choose how to present themselves to the world–something they have really never had a chance to do before. I think that deserves respect and admiration, even if the presentation isn’t the story others would prefer to hear.

  • The food here is amazing!!

  • My 4 year old goddaughter, somewhat preternaturally perceptive and appreciative of architecture, loves this building. But the first time I took her, she didn’t want to go inside. I didn’t know why until she finally asked “are there real Indians there?” and realized her entire experience was based on watching Disney’s Pocahontas about 18 times (lots of scary Indians.)

    I also find the exhibits really lame, focusing way to much on the idea that Indians are real people living in the modern world – which is true, and PC – but boring and telling very little about the complicated long history in North America, and absurdly, avoiding mention of arrival! Hey, I love Coyote creation stories, but I also believe in archeology.

    The New York museum of Natural History has a vastly more interesting, facinating, informative, and old fashioned exhibit. I do sort of understand why contemporary Native Americans may not want diaoramas of naked-ish Indians weaving loincloths out of ceder bark, and dragging around teepees on stick sledges pulled by dogs, but I find that ingeniousness – to make a way for oneself in a harsh land – much more compelling.

  • Boring museum, somewhat interesting but overpriced cafeteria.

  • If Doug Cardinal didn’t design the building, somebody better stop him from taking credit for it:

  • Cardinal was involved in what is known as ‘programming’, in the architecture and design world. This is the process of identifying needs, requirements and problems to be solved by the designer. This information is gathered through interviews, surveys and other forms of analysis. The result is usually either a programming document or a RFP (request for proposal). In the case of the Museum of the American Indian, Cardinal’s work occurred from 1993-1998 (which he states on his website) and was presented to Congress, which accepted his work and funded the project in 1998. The project then went to bid and an architect was chosen to design based on the data collected by Cardinal.

    It is very typical for several architects to be involved in a large project, as was the case here. Cardinal did the early footwork, then a ‘design architect’ was chosen to come up with the aesthetic and form concepts, and then a ‘project architect’ was chosen to produce the construction documents and oversee construction based on the ‘design architect’s’ concept.

    Part of the reason these various architects are employed is because they require different strengths. Very often the most ‘creative talent’ in the architecture world have very high billing rates and work for smaller firms that don’t have enough staff to produce large sets of construction drawings. Hiring a separate architect to produce these drawings means the client can pay less for the production phase of the project. It also means the ‘talent’ doesn’t have to be local–the designer can be from anywhere. But during the construction phase, it is helpful to have an architect nearby who can visit the site and respond to issues quickly, and who is familiar with local building codes, so the ‘project architect’ is almost always from the local area.

    As was the case here. Cardinal is from Ontario, CA and had to travel all over the continent for his portion; the design architect was firm called GBQC out of Philadelphia, and the project architect was a large powerhouse firm called Polshek Partnership based in NYC, which has over 150+/- staff on hand who contributed to the construction documents and administration.

  • “Not to mention the fact that not all tribes had such a violent encounter with western peoples.”


    You just lost your argument. I wont even ask the question if you can name one, because every tribe in this country has experienced horror due to the colonizers.

    Anywho, the outside of the building is gorgeous. The inside, not so much. Yes, the 10 or so tribes that were given space had an opportunity to tell their story how they wanted it to be told. But there are 562 federally recognized tribes in this country. Why not rotate some content?!

  • For those who feel the building doesn’t seem to “belong” there, it’s interesting to note that the building and its contents were (and are) greatly assisted by Gabrielle Tayac and others from the Piscataway Nation, who, by the way, are about as old-school DC as you can get. Thousands of years’ worth. So yes, since the groundbreaking was blessed (or “endorsed” as the tie-wearers might say) by Chief Billy Redwing Tayac, I’d say hellyes, that building has more right to be there than anything else on the mall, including the giant white boob and the pointy thing.

    And as for all this holocaust talk, I find the exhibits to be a balanced collection of past atrocities, current struggles (water rights, political movements), and forward-looking optimism. The architecture is splendid, the exhibits marvelous (and representing the voice & POV of the people, not a collection of stolen artifacts & commentary by white/european gravediggers), so it’s a lovely thing.

    It’s hard enough to find legitimate texts and wisdom on/from/by first-contact peoples, eastern woodlands nations, etc; so that’s another triumph of the place: the balance of representation. Six hundred thumbs up from the IA.

  • The food might be pretty good, but I can’t seem to get an answer from them as to where they source their frogs and turtles. When the global amphibian population is crashing and turtles aren’t doing so hot either, I’m not sure I like the idea of eating endangered species. I mean, they don’t serve panda soup at the zoo.

  • I love the reference to 2.1 miles to Anacostia. For someone who paddles regularly on the Anacostia River (Anacostia Community Boathouse) next to the Navy Yard, I appreciate it!

  • For anyone who doesn’t like how the museum is organized, I suggest taking a (free) guided tour. I took one on my second trip there and was able to understand much better how and why the museum is organized the way that it is — by freeing yourself of the usual expectations of how a museum “should be” organized, you can better understand the diversity of the cultures represented there.

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