Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center
The Arctic Studies Center conducts research on northern lands, environments, cultures, and people. It uses the Smithsonian collections and field studies to learn about the history and contemporary peoples of the circumpolar region. It represents a new cultural-center model that serves, and is served by, Alaskan Native communities.
RAA was asked to develop an institutional model that could reflect how ongoing scientific research could make cultural history accessible to the public as it unfolds. The collection of 650 objects is the largest single loan ever made by the Smithsonian Institution. Returned from Washington, D.C., to their place of origin, they were interpreted in consultation with Alaska Native scholars, curators, and community elders representing 14 communities.
Stringent conservation requirements for the objects mandated a sophisticated operational, environmental, and structural design. Object mounts and exhibition cases adhere to the strictest seismic-design standards and light-level restrictions. Digital technology supports ongoing interpretation, research, and scholarly inquiry.
At interactive, updatable digital stations visitors can uncover multiple layers of discovery for each object, including oral histories, historic photographs, artistic depictions, and a growing body of Native and scholarly commentary. RAA also designed the museum’s identity, signage, and way-finding system.
The Arctic Studies Center embodies the fulfillment of a goal, long held by Congress and the Smithsonian, to distribute its indigenous artifacts to centers of learning near the communities in which they were made. The center reunites contemporary Alaskans with their cultural heritage, giving form to their history and encouraging them to share their lifeways.
Size Arctic Studies Center (labs and offices): 11,890 square feet; Permanent exhibition gallery: 9,465 square feet
Architect David Chipperfield Architects
“I began to see through the veil of silence about our history and culture. I learned in places other than school, that we were a courageous and ingenious people who had made a rich life under sometimes inhospitable conditions.” Paul Ongtooguk (Inupiaq) #indigenousknowledge