2018 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award Recipient
Named for civil rights leader Whitney M. Young Jr., this award distinguishes an architect or architectural organization that embodies social responsibility and actively addresses a relevant issue, such as affordable housing, inclusiveness, or universal access.
Tamara Eagle Bull, FAIA, is an advocate for culturally relevant and responsible design, and a recognized leader in the realm of contemporary Native American architecture. As the first Native American woman in the U.S. to become a licensed architect, she uses her position and knowledge to improve the schools and communities in which she works.
A member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, Eagle Bull channels her 30 years of experience through Encompass Architects, her Lincoln, Neb., firm. Having faced racism on her journey to firm ownership, she works to rectify a built environment in which Native Americans have had little say, and where functionality is often compromised by generic pan-Indian motifs. In addition to its important work with tribal clients, Encompass Architects has helped reshape Lincoln’s urban fabric through several significant commercial projects.
“When I hear her tell the story of place, of how place formed her perspective on architecture, it reminds me of Native Peoples’ distinct connection to Mother Earth,” wrote Michael Laverdure, AIA, president of the American Indian Council of Architects and Engineers, in a letter supporting Eagle Bull’s nomination for the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award. “She has been an advocate for Native American communities, while working in those communities. Simply by listening and designing with her Tribal clients instead of for them, she is doing a great service to society.”
Eagle Bull’s sensitivity is evident in projects such as the Gila River Indian Community Governance Center in Sacaton, Ariz. Envisioned as the embodiment of tribal sovereignty, it expressed strength and independence, its landscape design and details depicting the culture of the Pima and Maricopa peoples in an elegant manner. In South Dakota, Eagle Bull developed three concepts for the Oglala Sioux Tribe to create a new memorial at the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre. The sacred site currently has no memorial, merely a sign that is often vandalized or stolen and a nearby museum operated by a non-tribal member. Three schemes were presented to community groups, and the project is currently exploring funding options to finance next phase.
“Tamara’s experience and values allow the clients to become an integral part of the design process, allowing the community to implement their own cultural values,” Troy S. Weston, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, wrote in a letter supporting Eagle Bull’s nomination. “I view this approach to attribute her own cultural values as placing the client/community first to value their own project.”
Eager to meet like-minded design professionals, Eagle Bull became active with the American Indian Council of Architects and Engineers shortly after graduation from the University of Minnesota School of Architecture. She led the way for changes in the organization and transitioned it from a small gathering of Native American firm-owners to an organization that welcomes architects and engineers at all career levels. As the council’s executive board secretary, Eagle Bull was instrumental in negotiating a memorandum of understanding with the National Organization of Minority Architects that allows the two organizations to work together for mutual benefit.
By embracing her status of role model and pioneer, Eagle Bull has laid the foundation for the next wave of Native American design professionals. She regularly speaks at graduation ceremonies and is often sought out by pre-kindergarten through high school–aged students for advice and mentorship.
“Tamara has opened up a clear path for future generations who will see her accomplishments as proof that a Native person can be an active and successful part of the architectural profession and directly use that knowledge and talent to make positive social contributions through design and advocacy for tribal communities and organizations,” wrote Sam Olbekson, Assoc. AIA., principal, Native American Design, Cunningham Group Architecture.