Peter d'Errico: Oneida architect offers indigenous approach to law

An architectural model by Christopher T. Cornelius. Photo: Studio Indigenous

What can practitioners of Indian law learn from an architect? Retired professor Peter d'Errico discovers the answer to that question after seeing a presentation by Christopher T. Cornelius, a citizen of the Oneida Nation:
What would a truly indigenous reexamination of Christian Discovery look like? For some guidance on this question, we may learn from an architect whose designs express an indigenous way of thinking and building: Christopher T. Cornelius (Oneida), Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and founding principal of Studio Indigenous, an architectural design and consulting practice serving American Indian clients.

In a stunning presentation at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst in March 2017—“Imagining Indigeneity”—Professor and Architect Cornelius offered a look at creating indigenous cultural meaning through architecture. He demonstrated, through words and images, the difference between buildings that merely mimic indigenous themes and structures that are in themselves indigenous to their locations.

Cornelius’ design research in what he calls “moon domiciles” provides a provocative example: The “domiciles” are based on the moon calendar of the Oneida Nation; each new moon signifies a “ceremony/ritual … guided by an observation within nature”—specifically, the associated month’s wind data, collected over a year’s observation. In other words, the designs grow from the natural environment and resolve in how the building “meets the Earth.”

Buildings arising from Cornelius’ approach differ markedly from buildings that are simply shaped like or decorated with Native symbols. His designs arise from a reexamination of architectural principles that goes underneath conventional building concepts. The designs demonstrate something new that embodies something old. Like Llewellyn’s approach to law, Cornelius shows the possibilities of continuity and change.

Read More on the Story:
Peter d'Errico: Indigenous Lawyers Can Learn from an Indigenous Architect (Indian Country Media Network 4/26)

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