Smithsonian Institution - National Museum of the American Indian - Cultural Resources Center

Suitland, Maryland

Located at the Smithsonian Institution’s collection storage campus, the Cultural Resources Center is a collection and research facility for Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Indian. The building houses a library, environmentally controlled storage system for over a million Native American artifacts from the George Gustav Heye collection, curatorial and ritual practice spaces, workshops and laboratories for restoration of the artifacts. The collection is housed in high-density storage system on three levels below dramatic radial steel roof structure. Respect for the artifacts, proper orientation and long term care and preservation of the collection required sensitivity and understanding of importance of the collection. Temperature and humidity levels to suit each different kind of collection as well as for comfort of the 200 plus staff that takes care of the collection were carefully designed into the project. The project unifies diverse and formally distinguished program elements and makes symbolic and physical connections with the natural and manmade landscape. The juxtaposition of cultural and institutional objectives greatly influenced the overall form, materials and colors in the building.

The building’s circular lobby, oriented to the cardinal directions, serves as the spiritual and functional center of the building; both the structural and circulation systems originate here. The
form emerges from an orthogonal base and refers to the overall planning of the building.

This rectilinear base provides a hard edge to both the Smithsonian campus and the Suitland
community and houses the collection and support spaces.

The primary approach to the building is from the east, respecting desire of the Potomac Native
American host community, through a stepped entry court, which leads to the central space. A ramp to the main level along the western edge provides a second entrance from the Smithsonian’s collection campus. A ramp on north provides access to ritual space in the woods.

Damyanti was part of the core group within the joint venture and her role on the project was to lead the Polshek team through out design, documentation, construction and final completion of the project. The starting point for the project was participation in a design charrette to familiarize and appreciate Native American Indian Nations, their culture, rituals and aspirations. The concept design and documentation was a collaborative effort within the joint venture teams from Polshek Toby+Davis and Native American Design Collaborative.