National Museum of the American Indian

NMAI, the Nation’s definitive museum on Native Americans, opened on September 21, 2004, on the last available site on the National Mall, the site closest to the Capitol building. The 250,000-square-foot building contains nearly 70,000 square feet of gallery, theater, and other interpretive space. The museum represents more than 500 tribes from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic.

From the beginning, Ramona Sakiestewa served as a key member of the design team. More than any other single person, she was responsible for the Native spirit of the building.

National Museum of The American Indian

Cultural Theming & Design: Ramona Sakiestewa, LLC.
Architects: SmithGroup, Washington, DC
Jones & Jones, Seattle, WA
Polshek & Assoc., New York, NY

Working with the project architects, Ramona designed key elements of the building, including the paving pattern of the entry plaza, the elevator cabs, custom-cast glass doors, the curtain for the main theater, and a dramatic woven copper screen wall that encircles the building’s central atrium. She also worked with the architects to develop interior color, material, and furniture vocabularies based on cosmology, nature, and Indian material culture.

By standing in the center of the NMAI Entry Plaza, visitors can visualize the movements of the planets on November 28, 1989, the birthday of the legislative enactment to build the museum. Rather than using the common planetary names for this project, Sakiestewa elected to create a pan-tribal vocabulary.

Ceremonial East Entry Doors

Native peoples of North, Central and South America greet the morning sun with traditional East facing doorways. The custom glass doors face East with custom bronze door pulls. The icons in the cast glass are sun symbols from Native American tribes.

Copper Screen Wall with Solar Burn

The copper screen wall is nine panels ranging from 11’ high to 3’ high and running 100’ in length. It surrounds the “Potomac” space that represents the sun. Etched into the panels is the pattern of the asymmetrical “Solar Burn” that is the one year cycle of the sun.

Theater Curtain

The NMAI Theater represents storytelling among various tribes in the Americas. The ravens are considered the trickster storytellers in many tribal cultures. The full moon is woven into the curtain and the wall sconces are custom fixtures depicting the eight phases of the Moon.

Four Directions Elevators and Interior

The elevator doors and cabs represent the four directions and four different water fowl from Pre-Columbian Mound Builder culture.