Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Client: American Indian Cultural Center Foundation

After more than two decades of design and construction, Oklahoma City’s First American Museum (FAM) officially opened its doors to the public. A weekend-long celebration on September 18th and 19th marked the Grand Opening with entertainment, cultural demonstrations and activities and exhibitions.

Johnson Fain and a wide-ranging team of consultants provided comprehensive design services to the American Indian Cultural Center Foundation (AICCF) and representatives of the 39 Tribes of Oklahoma to create the First Americans Museum. The sprawling and one-of-kind project is located two miles East of downtown Oklahoma City on the south bank of the Oklahoma River.

The master planning concept includes mound building as used by many Oklahoma tribes who located their settlements near rivers as a method of elevating land above dangerous flood levels. The symbolism of a circular spiral mound central to the design concept was employed to represent the Indian’s “procession of life” from a “garden of origins” to a ninety-foot-high promontory overlooking the river with views towards downtown Oklahoma City in the distance and the heavens above. Along the promontory walk, there are three “Sky Terraces” for storytelling, repose, and contemplation.

The 125,000 square foot First Americans Museum is a building of the earth integrated into the large rising spiral mound at the heart of the site. A tall prismatic glass “Hall of The People” is the meeting place for the many tribes making up Oklahoma’s rich Native American heritage and the starting place for the visitor to begin the journey through the multi-layered story of Native American culture and history.

A circular Cultural Center and Museum building intersects the promontory walk which symbolizes the “Encounter & Inclusion” of the Western European occupation. At the center of the Courtyard of Nations, one can mark the winter solstice through a passageway through the spiral mound. Symbolism and storytelling are embodied throughout the site, the architecture, and exhibits, helping visitors to learn about six themes of Native lives: Spirituality, Community, Sustenance, Culture & Artistic Expression, Alliances & Conflict, and Law & Government.

Among the many members of Johnson Fain’s creative team were Ralph Appelbaum Associates for exhibition design, Hargreaves Jones for landscape architecture, Storyline Studios for the development of the FAMily Discovery Center, Beck Design for FF&E and Hornbeek Blatt as associate architects from Oklahoma.