Page D3.1 . 02 February 2005                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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Mixed Smoke Signals

by Michael J. Crosbie

Washington D.C. has long been a conservative city for architecture, at least since Pierre L'Enfant laid out the city in 1791. As decreed by the McMillan Plan of the early 1900s, buildings could be no taller than the U.S. Capitol dome. This has resulted in a low-scale skyline that some find retrograde for a world capital.

More recent buildings and landmarks, such as the World War II Memorial, have adhered more or less strictly to an architectural vocabulary of stripped classicism. In fact, the most controversial design built in Washington over the past generation has probably been the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is uncompromising in its elegant abstraction.

But now we have the new $220 million National Museum of the American Indian, which occupies a prominent spot on the National Mall, and it is anything but conservative. For Washington, it is a daring building. While the museum left me wishing it were a bit more cohesive, there is no doubt that the Smithsonian Institution has created a building that is quite unlike any other in the city, especially on the National Mall.   >>>

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The National Museum of the American Indian, designed by Canadian architect Douglas Cardinal and many others.
Photo: Robert C. Lautman

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The building's rough wall texture and eroded form on the north face suggest that it was carved from the earth.
Photo: Robert C. Lautman


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