Design Project Redefining Collaborative Work in Indian Country to be Featured in Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Exhibition in NYC

Design Project Redefining Collaborative Work in Indian Country to be Featured in Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Exhibition in NYC

PINE RIDGE INDIAN RESERVATION, May 5th, 2016 –– The groundbreaking collaborative community design project, the Thunder Valley Regenerative Plan, has been selected as one of the 60 design projects to be featured in the By the People: Designing a Better America Exhibition this fall at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. The exhibition will run September 30th, 2016 through February 26th, 2017.

By the People: Designing a Better America is the third installation in Cooper Hewitt’s humanitarian design series, which examines how design is challenging social and economic inequality across America. The projects selected for this exhibition range in scale and function, and are located in communities from every region in the United States. The fabric that weaves these projects together is how they represent “collaborative designs for more equitable, inclusive and sustainable communities.”

Years in the making, the Regenerative Plan is a visionary community design collaboration between local Pine Ridge Indian Reservation community members, Oglala Lakota 501(c)(3)non-profit organization Thunder Valley CDC,and architecture firms BNIM and Pyatt Studio, with essential support from KLJ Engineering and Studio NYL. This project is Lakota culture materialized in a built environment –– an entire eco-friendly, climate change adaptable community built from the ground up with Lakota culture & values in mind. Informed by innovative, community driven architectural design and rooted in the voices and values of Lakota people, this project takes a comprehensive approach to creating systemic change on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The Design Team reflects what is possible when collaboration is based on mutual respect and a shared vision for the future.

Nearly two decades ago, a group of young Oglala Lakota began to actively revitalize their Lakota spiritual practices, and from these efforts the current project originated. While taking a break during inipi (sweat ceremony), “We were complaining about the way the rez is,” says Nick Tilsen, now Executive Director of Thunder Valley CDC. “We went back into the sweat lodge and the ancestors posed a challenge to us: ‘How long are you going to let others decide the future for your children? Are you not warriors? It is time to stop talking and start doing. Don’t operate from a place of fear, operate from a place of hope. Anything is possible, but you need to take action. The moment is here; the time is now.’” Tilsen later founded Thunder Valley CDC and the organization has worked to address everything from federal policy to local people’s priorities for themselves & their families.

One of the main priorities local people expressed is the need for healthy and affordable housing. However, the extensive planning and knowledge required to create even basic infrastructure systems to build homes demands careful strategy, and it was evident that in order to move forward Thunder Valley CDC would need partners that understood the importance of honoring the voices of Oglala Lakota people. That is where the architects & engineers at BNIM, Pyatt Studio, KLJ Engineering and Studio NYL have been essential to creating sustainable, innovative solutions. Over years’ worth of meetings on Pine Ridge, the project’s Design Team has dedicated itself to working with local community members in order to design physical spaces that reflect Lakota values. Rob Pyatt, of Pyatt Studio, says, “A community-driven design process is based on developing real relationships and long term partnerships. It takes time.” It is not only time is that members of the Design Team have dedicated.

Their decades of experience and commitment to excellence have produced an extraordinary synthesis where traditional meet cutting-edge design.

Christina Hoxie, of BNIM, recalls her experience in seeing how having local community members lead visioning sessions allowed the relationship of trust to move faster and be more genuine. “Because people knew each other and shared a cultural understanding, they were able to express what they wanted and why, openly and honestly. This allowed us to translate the voice of the community into the language of design.”

Designing spaces that are aimed at comprehensive & culturally based empowerment of a community is an uncommon tactic in the world of development, especially in Rural America, but every member of the Design Team remains dedicated to this particular approach to ethical social design because they recognize how physical spaces, such as a home or a community, contribute to the wellbeing of the people that occupy them. Creative place-making is not just designing spaces that are more aesthetically engaging, but a way to create a built environment that enlivens its people and promotes prosperity sustainability. Only by joining together and allowing their unique experiences to inform each other has the Design Team experienced collective breakthroughs that would have not been possible alone. It is this approach to partnership that is setting a standard for how to effectively and meaningfully partner with Native communities and commit to community based design.

For more information about the By the People exhibition or Cooper Hewitt, contact:
Laurie Bohlk, Associate Director of Communications & Marketing, Cooper Hewitt
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 212.849.8420

For more information about the Thunder Valley Regenerative Plan, contact:
Cecily Engelhart, Director of Communications, Thunder Valley CDC
Email: [email protected] Telephone: 605.455.2700