Ken Cedeno Photography
In 1991 Duane Blue Spruce was working at a Manhattan architecture firm and was ready for a change. So when a colleague showed him an ad for a job opening at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, he decided to take a chance. As it turned out, he was the perfect candidate for the job. “I’d always lived in New York City,” Blue Spruce says, “so moving to Santa Fe was a complete sea change—in my career and in the direction of my life.”
      As the institute’s assistant project manager, Blue Spruce found himself immersed in his father’s Native American culture. “My father’s father was from the Laguna Pueblo tribe, and my father’s mother was from the San Juan Pueblo tribe,” Blue Spruce says. “My mother’s family is Spanish, and my parents were born and raised in New Mexico. Walking in their footsteps helped me rediscover my roots.”
      In 1993 the Smithsonian Institution held a design workshop in Santa Fe that brought together Native American architects and design professionals from different tribes to sketch, draw, and brainstorm about the new National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) to be built in the nation’s capital. The workshop gave Blue Spruce a chance to collaborate with other Native people and meet architects working on the NMAI’s Cultural Resources Center (CRC) in Suitland, Maryland, and the Mall Museum in Washington, D.C. “The NMAI’s constituency is hemispheric in scope, so we tried to identify commonalities among Native design principles without diluting them,” the School of Architecture graduate says. “I was excited about the project because it was evident the architects and the NMAI were committed to collaborating with Native people.”
      Just as Blue Spruce and his wife were settling into the Southwest, he was invited to Washington, D.C., to work on the NMAI’s projects. Although it was difficult to leave family ties in Santa Fe, he knew the offer to become facilities planner for the NMAI was the chance of a lifetime.
      After arriving at the Smithsonian, Blue Spruce saw firsthand how the workshop had directly influenced some of the final design decisions of the CRC, which houses the NMAI’s vast collection of Native American artifacts, conservation laboratories, curatorial and repatriation spaces, and a research library. The center’s organic spiraling roof form, natural building materials, and natural color palette all take cues directly from the surrounding environment. “The CRC’s design is very responsive to cultural concerns,” he says. “The roof is an abstraction of forms found in nature, and the building, which emphasizes the importance of the circle, is oriented to the four directions of the wind, with the main entrance facing east to greet the morning sun.”
      Blue Spruce is now working on the design and construction of the NMAI’s Mall Museum, scheduled to open on the National Mall in spring 2004. The museum, which is the centerpiece of the NMAI’s public programs, will feature exhibition spaces, a theater, a Native café, a conference center, and indoor and outdoor program areas. As a staff architect and a Native person, Blue Spruce represents the museum’s programmatic and cultural interests. He is collaborating with tribal groups to develop the inaugural exhibition and acts as a liaison between the Smithsonian and the project’s architects and engineers. “For the past 10 years I’ve learned what it means to work on the client side of a project,” Blue Spruce says. “And the Smithsonian is a very complicated client.”
      Architecture was just one of Blue Spruce’s possible career choices—he also was interested in journalism and photography. “My life could have gone in a very different direction,” he says. “But when I moved to Santa Fe and learned of my grandfather’s accomplishments as an architect and a woodworker, I realized I must have inherited the architecture gene.”
      Outside work, Blue Spruce spends much of his time with his 7-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. “I enjoy being a father as much as anything else,” he says. “My children are precious and always make me laugh at least once a day—they are a joy to be around.”

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