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The Pristine Myth On The Mall

Covering A Lot Of Ground In A Little Space

The building that is the National Museum of the American Indian is refreshingly shocking for button-down Washington, suggesting some Western butte in its honeyed and chiseled Kasota limestone. But over its five years of construction, we have had time to get used to it. Wait till you see the landscape around it.

... Bringing rude nature to the hallowed ground of the Mall takes guts, of course. But this is not rude nature. No wilderness actually looked like this. It is as calculated a built artifact in its own way as is Tomorrowland. It is nature to which human intelligence and imagination have been applied. It is an Indian's image of Eden.

... Twelve years in design and construction, the landscape consists of four environments -- wetlands, an upland hardwood forest, meadowlands and traditional crops. These are meant to recall vast and different ecosystems, an entire Native American paradise shoehorned into a city block off Independence Avenue.

An "artificial" ecosystem strikes me as rather appropriate for the National Museum of the American Indian. To some degree the whole American landscape was an artifact of Indian inhabitation when Europeans first arrived. Perhaps the NMAI grounds can serve as a reminder to people that "natural" lands can't be taken for granted or simply left to their own devices.


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