AIA Awards


November 20, 2003

Muckleshoot project blends culture with design

  • Philip Starr Building reflect tribe's relation to nature
    Helix Architecture

    Philip Starr Building
    Photos by Michael Moore, Bainbridge Island
    The main entrance of the Philip Starr Building in Auburn connects two office wings.

    There are often times in the design of a new building when the most modern features and artistic styling don't meld with the needs of an owner. While modern architecture has a distinct flair, appreciation toward a sense of tradition offers its own creative license.

    When the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe began planning and programming for the Philip Starr Building, the design team could immediately appreciate the importance of reflecting the tribe's cultural relationship to the natural environment through the structural elements of the two-story, 52,000-square-foot building.

    Planned to house Fisheries, Wildlife and Policy departments, which would be supported by two small labs and numerous office spaces, the building would also serve as a link to the tribal community. Tribal Council chambers, general tribal meeting rooms and other tribal offices would also be part of the Philip Starr Building. The challenge: To create a building that would honor tribal culture and traditions, while supporting an active and technically advanced Fish and Wildlife Department, complete with water quality and wet/dry research labs.

    Located on the Muckleshoot reservation in Auburn, the area surrounding the building site proved ideal as a subtle link to the external environment, so sacred in Native American culture. Extensive wetlands, sweeping views of Mount Rainier and a pristine environment on all sides offered a visual connection to blend the structure with its natural surroundings.

    In consideration of such a location, it was important to the design team to incorporate extensive opportunities for the inhabitants to experience, and interact, with the external environment.

    First, the building concept was based on the need to provide views for users to connect with their exterior surroundings. This was accomplished through the use of daylighting. By arranging office spaces around the courtyard and exterior in narrow wings, light and view penetration were allowed to reach the interior.

    The primary shaping of the building resulted from a desire to capture views of Mount Rainier in the central courtyard and from the lobby. In addition, the structure is low in scale relative to adjacent wetlands and other campus buildings to encourage blending with the natural environment.

    Secondly, the different departments (Fisheries and Wildlife) needed separate identities while maintaining a connection in shared areas. Hence, the office wings were separated by a landscaped courtyard, yet connected by a second level transparent “bridge,” which passes through the main lobby/building entry. In addition, interior design staff created a unique “river” path of slate to guide the visitor to the Fisheries side of the building, while cougar tracks in the slate lead to the Wildlife Department.

    Philip Starr Building
    The style, material and color reflect traditional Northwest architecture, with subtle hints of cultural influences. In the main entrance lobby, a prominent fireplace, tile floor and use of Alaskan yellow cedar can be found.

    Finally, the connection between culture and structure is realized through the selection of materials used in construction and finishes. The entry/lobby is constructed from heavy timber elements, which stand like tall trees above a large rock fireplace and enclose a spacious gathering place for large groups. Ceremonial meeting rooms maintain traditional patterns, fabrics and colors. Laboratory spaces and associated animal processing are located at the rear of the building, the shape of which reflects the curving form of the pond and wetlands beyond.

    Materials and finishes link users to the natural environment. Alaskan yellow cedar is used to express structural elements in lobby, circulation and gathering spaces. The tones and texture further suggest users' connectedness to nature. Throughout, flooring materials serve as allegorical devices, to guide and suggest linkage to the native world of water and animals.

    Additional Northwest materials of cedar, Douglas fir and stone are used as finishes throughout the interior and exterior, allowing users to see and touch natural textures and colors.

    The building pays tribute to its location, users and purpose through careful consideration of site features, natural relationships, use of expressive materials, and understanding of the inhabitants' physical and sensory connection with culture and tradition.

    The building is an excellent example of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe's vision of and commitment to a quality facility. Further, the tribe trusted and provided the architect with the means to realize this vision.

    Construction was completed in September 2003.

    Breann Parriott is the marketing coordinator for Helix Architecture in Tacoma, the designer of the Philip Starr Building.

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