• Location: Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Completed: October 2010
  • Building Area: 12,295 sf
  • Client: Northern Arizona University

  • LEED Gold
  • 29.4 EUI

  • U.S. Green Building Council Arizona “Heavy Medal” Award

NAU attracts more than 1,500 Native American students from over 115 tribal nations throughout the country. The NACC is a focal point and platform for the diverse traditions, perspectives and contributions of Native American culture at the university. Located at the center of the campus, the NACC welcomes students, scholars, tribal communities, the university community and the general public, providing opportunities to experience and learn about Native American culture. A “home away from home” for students, it houses activities that support student recruitment and retention, serving as a point of contact for native groups on campus and programs involving NAU and the tribes of Arizona. Studio Ma worked closely with Ted Jojola, the director of the Indigenous Design and Planning Institute, and landscape architect Brian McCormack to design their Native American Cultural Center.

The design of the NACC was informed by the Indigenous Planning Process, a value-based, participatory process invested in understanding the world view of diverse communities. Consensus-building was a key part of the process, engaging the community in meaningful ways to determine the nature of the project and how the NACC will be used over time, ensuring enduring support from subsequent generations. Representatives from 22 Arizona tribal communities and 44 from other states participated.

Members of 66 tribal communities participated in the Indigenous Planning Process.

Focus groups were conducted early in the project to gain a better understanding of how people envisioned the proposed NACC and how it would be used. A common vision among participants was of a center that would reinforce a sense of community and build respect for tribal identity and culture.

The design team asked the participants to draw and discuss symbols or themes to be used as a spiritual point of reference in the design of the NACC. Four such themes were chosen for the project: Ancestors and Emergence (Spiral), Natural Flows (Rivers), Time and Place (Spiral and Sun Path), Life Journeys (Trail of Tears). This feedback resulted in many design elements, such as how the building is oriented to cardinal directions and a circular meeting room that places all participants on equal footing by staying face-to-face with one another. Other themes have influenced building circulation, building materials and finishes, and the design of the center’s grounds, which are also used for events. Designed to respect Mother Earth and Father Sky, the NACC embodies native values and serves as a symbol of NAU’s ongoing commitment to Native Americans.

A “home away from home”, the cultural center improves student recruitment retention.