Cultural Resources Center

The Cultural Resources Center (CRC), the second of three facilities comprising the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, is home to the extensive collections and research programs of the museum. Completed in 1998 and opened in 1999, the CRC, located just outside of Washington, D.C., in Suitland, Maryland, provides state-of-the-art resources and facilities for the proper conservation, protection, handling, cataloging, research, and study of the museum's collections, library holdings, and photo and paper archives. The CRC also serves as a hub for the museum's technology, information resources, and Web development, and as a production center for the museum's public facilities on the Mall and in New York City.

In all of its activities, the museum acknowledges the diversity of cultures and the continuity of cultural knowledge among indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere and Hawai'i, incorporating Native methodologies for the handling, documentation, and care of collections. The CRC is designed to house the museum's collections in a manner that is sensitive to both tribal and museum requirements for access and preservation. The CRC also serves as a vital resource center for new approaches to the study and presentation of the history and culture of Native peoples. The CRC holds the museum's curatorial and repatriation offices, as well as a computer and information resource center, library, and areas for the care of the collections. The facility includes laboratories and workrooms for conservation, registration, photography, film and video, and collections management, and indoor and outdoor spaces for Native traditional care practices and cultural use of the collections.

In addition to providing a suitable home for the NMAI collections, the CRC serves as a welcome and accessible environment for Native and non-Native visitors from tribal, academic, cultural, educational, and artistic communities and organizations. The CRC functions as the museum's focal point for sharing expertise and training the next generation of museum professionals, especially Native Americans.

The CRC Building
The unique design of the Cultural Resources Center was conceived and executed with the direct involvement of Native communities. The architectural program and design for the building were the result of numerous consultations and collaborations with NMAI staff, design professionals, and a cross-section of Native peoples from throughout the Western Hemisphere and Hawai'i. The architectural program, The Way of the People, was developed by a team of consultants led by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates. The architectural design was developed by the Polshek Partnership of New York, Tobey + Davis of Virginia, and the Native American Design Collaborative, a consortium of Native design professionals and cultural consultants. Construction of the CRC, begun in summer 1996 and completed in fall 1998, was funded by both public and private support.

The architecture of the CRC reflects numerous Native American cultural and design principles. The design inspires respect for the collections the building holds and the cultures it represents, and at the same time, creates a welcoming atmosphere. The CRC's design also represents a Native approach to architecture and landscape that emphasizes a connection to the environment. Carefully placed windows and skylights introduce natural light, and an orientation on the four cardinal directions is reinforced throughout the building, beginning with the east-facing entry. An organic, curving roof and radial walls suggest spiral forms commonly found in nature—nautilus shell, spider web, pine cone, butterfly wing. Inside and outside the building, forms, materials, and colors are inspired by the surrounding environment. Native grasses and indigenous shrubs and trees are incorporated throughout the CRC site, creating a natural and unstructured landscape.

NMAI's Cultural Resources Center won a Year 2000 Construction Award from Buildings Magazine in the category of New Public/Government Construction.

The CRC also received a 2000 Award of Excellence in Commercial Architecture from the Northern Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).