Americans || Studio Joseph || Architect of the Year Awards 2020

Studio Joseph: Winner of Architect of the Year Awards 2020. “Americans”—a nod to the name given to this country’s indigenous peoples by European settlers—is a modern, dynamic, multimedia permanent display. The 9,200-square-foot Smithsonian exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. deconstructs conflicts and decisions involving native peoples at specific historic moments and questions the ubiquity of a demographic in American pop-culture that comprises only 1% of the country’s population. Innovative, immersive environments use visceral media technology and tactile, multi-layered experiences.

Within the central gallery “Indians Everywhere,” a powder-coated ¾-inch, square tubular steel armature holds three centuries of objects, graphics and photography. Showcasing diverse artifacts such as a 1948 Indian Chief motorcycle, the Tomahawk missile and Navajo Barbie, this intricate display system required creativity and technical expertise to execute. To insure an economic and efficient installation, the display consists of a grid with 12-inch-deep MDF object cases that integrate widely diverse materials. Thirty-two sections of framework, each 5’ wide and 14’ tall, connect with imperceptible joints. All aspects of the design comply with strict Smithsonian standards, Universal Design, ADA and ABA. The effect is a larger-than-life, historical narrative interpreted within a bold, modern aesthetic—fulfilling the museum’s agenda to achieve an immersive environment with engaging content.

Interactive screens in the center of the gallery allow visitors to search for their favorite “Indian” iconography and decode the information. At the far end of the room, television episodes and “spaghetti westerns” projection map onto a series of panels. This fragmented projection allows for seamless content integration without subordinating the gallery into mere theater. Comfortable, upholstered, seating encourages visitors to reflect and share experiences with others, while absorbing the magnitude of the content.

Galleries off of “Indians Everywhere” present materials with graphic motifs coupled with pithy, provocative quotes, inspiring the visceral questioning of common historical topics—Pocahontas, the Battle of Little Bighorn, Thanksgiving, and the Trail of Tears. Facilitating learning and engagement, visitors leave postcards with their personal thoughts and recollections within a dedicated sharing space. The show encourages visitors to move beyond cultural tourism to a true understanding of how our ability to grapple with a past defines who we are and our goals for the future. Visitors leave acknowledging the cultural complexity of native peoples in America’s collective history. 

Firm || Studio Joseph
Project Name || Americans
Architect || Wendy Evans Joseph
Architect of the Year Award Category || Pop Up – Built

Project Location || Washington, DC
Team || Exhibition Design – Studio Joseph, Media Design for decoder: Bluecadet, Graphic Design – NR2154, Lighting Design – Anita Jorgensen Lighting Design, Structural Engineering – Hage Structural Engineering, Electrical Engineering – James Posey Associates, LEED Commissioning – Re: Vision Architecture, Fabrication/Graphics – Capitol Museum Services, Fabrication – Duggal, Cost Estimator – Lee Haase, Architectural Contractor – BeltBuilt
Country || United States
Photography ©Credit || ©Thomas Loof

Studio Joseph is a small studio comprised of diverse individuals from different nations. We revile bigotry, social injustice, and police brutality. As exhibition designers, we have the privilege of helping amplify voices that are silenced. As architects, we have the power to advance the design and presence of public buildings in underserved communities. While we are proud of our work, we realize that we can do more, and we pledge to use our skills and creativity to make a more profound change in the memory of George Floyd and others in the black community who have been murdered by the hands of those put in power to protect them. Education, empathy, and equity are at the forefront of our studio’s philosophy, and in that regard, we have made a specific action plan that includes:

Reviewing our internal policies and recommitting to hiring practices that prioritize inclusion.

Working with cultural and public institutions whose commitment to social justice mirrors our own.

Collaborating with colleagues whose work in community engagement enables us to develop assets and design strategies that empower individuals to have meaningful discussions about systemic racism in America.

And, educating ourselves as architects by delving into the Architectural League’s Race and Architecture recommended reading. If you are part of the architecture community, we invite you to explore these resources so that we may begin a deeper discussion.We are here to listen and collaborate on initiatives for making our communities and our world a better place for everyone. We look forward to your feedback and insight.