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Native American Architecture

In the third year of collaboration between the Folklife Festival and the Department of Energy, attention turned to Native American architecture. In recent years, a new interest in native American dwellings had begun to focus on their energy efficient features as well as the symbolism of traditional Indian structures. For example, experiments comparing the energy efficiency of the tipi with a modern American home indicated that on freezing winter nights the Indian lived at a similar comfort level. Their hardwood-burning fires warmed the tipi at a comparable efficiency level to oil heated furnaces, because the space required for each person was a tenth the area non-Indians were accustomed to.

Indian communities in the late 1970s were experiencing a revival of old house building. The Wichita of central Oklahoma had resumed building the distinctive beehive-shaped houses of red cedar ribs that had seemed to be lost a half-century ago. In Northwestern California the Hupa had been reconstructing their traditional cedar plank houses on the sites of three old rancheria (or village) locations. Both the Hupa family house and the slightly smaller men's sweat house belonged to the oldest architectural tradition in North America, the pit house. Here earth serves as excellent insulation, walling the four-foot deep excavations where the Hupa once warmed themselves during the damp winter and cooled themselves throughout the baking summer.

Visitors entering the Indian lodges built at the Festival could notice the skillful use of available materials. These home traditions perpetuated practical adaptations to climate; also, they indicated the human impulse to invest the immediate environment with spiritual meaning.

Diana Parker served as Energy Exhibit Coordinator, with Gary Floyd as Technical Coordinator.

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