The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) contains First Nations artifacts from North, Central, and South America. These various First Nations groups from different parts of the Americas were to be represented in the architectural design of the NMAI. The design of the NMAI site, interiors and exhibits were to reflect the many First Nations groups that existed prior to European contact as well as contemporary traditions. These various First Nations groups were to be reflected in the design of the entire building.
During the planning process for the NMAI in Washington D.C., the architectural and design team decided it was valuable to conduct a research trip to Mexico in May 1995.
The objective of the research trip to Mexico was to learn how Latin American Indigenous cultures, both ancient and contemporary, were to influence the design of the future NMAI. The intent was to see first-hand forms of symbols characteristic of pre-Hispanic civilizations that could influence the architectural design of the NMAI.
The trip to Mexico included a visit to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City and a tour with the Mexican architect Pedro Ramirez Vazquez. The tour also included experts from Peru that provided insight into Inca architecture and cultural symbols. The group also toured the Museum of the Templo Mayor and the Pyramids of Teotihuacan. The last leg of the trip saw the NMAI team visit Oaxaca to visit the Zapotec ruins at Monte Alban.
As noted by Douglas Cardinal’s firm, the research trip provided the the team with the tools to create a museum space fair to Indigenous groups across the Americas. Douglas Cardinal’s wish was say something powerful and meaningful about First Nations peoples by his use of flowing, curvilinear architecture and design.