Architectural Feature: Sky City Cultural Center and Haak’u Museum

2017 NMAF Award Winner
For newer buildings or sites completed within the last 50 years
that have made our community stronger.

Home to a land they have inhabited for centuries, the Pueblo of Acoma people are a resilient community that have graciously opened their doors to share their history with others. In 2002, after their original visitor center was destroyed by a fire, Barbara Felix Architecture + Design (in joint venture with WoodMetalConcrete) was given the opportunity to create a new visitor center that celebrated Acoma’s people and their rich cultural landscape, woven together with modern sensibilities.

The old visitor center was placed at the base of the mesatop village of Haak’u, the Acoma people’s historic home that sits 225 feet above. While this location felt most like home to Acoma’s people, a more easily accessible and visible site was considered just off the interstate near their casino. The convenience such a location would provide for construction and visitors was not enough to outweigh their community’s connection to the original site at Haak’u, nearly fifteen miles off the interstate within a vast and beautiful landscape. This is where their story began, and this is where they wished for it to continue.

Over a four-year design and construction process that consisted of an array of community meetings with various stakeholders and tribal members, as well as intensive research into traditional materials, methods, and crafts, BFA+D produced a state-of-the-art, modern day visitor center that incorporates historic traditions of Acoma and Pueblo architecture: the Sky City Cultural Center & Haak’u Musuem (SCCC).

The 40,000 SF, award-winning facility taps into 1,000 years of architectural building, craft, material, and workmanship traditions from Acoma’s pre-cursor villages of Aztec, Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, their own village of Haak’u, as well as other Spanish and Anglo influences from the 18th century to today. These precedents translate into a facility that harnesses the sun, wind, and water using techniques of traditional design and orientation while also maintaining Acoma’s cultural connections: Mount Taylor to the North, Katzima Mesa to the East, the village of Haak’u to the South, sacred sites and agricultural fields to the West, and other cultural landmarks known to the people. Additionally, the six most important materials used in the design, including stone, corn, mud plaster, mica, wood, and pottery, connect to and reinforce traditional Acoma culture, building traditions, and their cultural landscape.

With such traditions in mind, BFA+D identified appropriate materials – many from the pueblo itself – and methods, as well as maintenance considerations for ongoing ease of upkeep by tribal members. The six colors of stucco are taken from the landscape in which the building sits, and the stone patterns reference Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, and Acomita. Graphic symbols used throughout SCCC connect to Acoma’s cultural patrimony, including prayers for rain, for the Acoma people, and for the world. Many of the building and decorative objects were designed and fabricated by Acoma’s own people, thus supporting the economic sustainability of their own community.

“The process of designing [Sky City Cultural Center] informed the tribe of the opportunity it has to engage its tribal members, in a meaningful way, into both community and economic development projects and associated planning. It also identified key areas of interest and concern about safeguarding critical issues facing the Pueblo, including culture and language revitalization, economic development, and safeguarding history about Acoma governance, education, health and wellness, architecture, artistry, and the environment. This process of inclusion created capacity internally, new standards for managing significant construction projects, training of tribal members, and becoming leaders and a resource for other tribes pursuing similar projects.” – Brian Vallo, the Museum Director at the time

The process of designing SCCC was a collaborative effort by BFA+D and Acoma’s community that resulted in a cultural center and museum that is of its place, of its people, and will speak to Acoma’s community and visitors for many generations to come. It is a place for Acoma to store and display their artifacts, educate others about their own community history and traditions, and interact with visitors from near and far. SCCC hosts 40,000+ visitors per year, has been deemed the #1 Native American Tourist Destination consistently since its completion.








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