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 community services, educational outreach, technology and Web development, and information resources, and as a production center for the museum's public facilities on the Mall (opening in September 2004) and in New York City.
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).