The striking entrance to the Museum Library and Research Center was designed to resemble “Thunderbird,” a favorite character in local legends. You may also notice that it resembles a petroglyph design (left) that was created by the Squi-Ailt people who occupied an ancient, yet just recently discovered fishing village along the southern shores of Eld Inlet.

The Squaxin Island MLRC is on the cutting edge of a modern trend in architectural design that seeks to bring museums and libraries together in a hands-on, user-friendly atmosphere. This philosophy, however, is nothing new to tribal people. We have long understood the benefits of bringing a wide range of educational tools and methods to the fireside. For example, storytelling was used as a means to teach the youth valuable lessons about everything from morals and family life to history and science.

Premier Northwest Architects
The Squaxin Island Tribe retained the renowned architectural firm Schacht Aslani Architects for the museum project. Walter Schacht has played a significant role in a variety of museum projects around the region, including the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Bellevue Art Museum, Experience Music Project and the Seattle Art Museum.

The MLRC brings together the best features of libraries and museums as places for culture and community. In a contemporary interpretation of the plankhouse archetype, the museum and library are located together in a single, great hall that integrates the two functions. The design marries the visual, experiential qualities of an exhibit gallery with the accessible, educational characteristics of a reading room. The individual components of the museum and the library – displays, bookshelves, reading areas, computer stations and information center – are woven into an integrated whole. Book collections are organized in relation to subject matter so that a display of baskets, for example, is accompanied by related reading materials. Supporting these activities are adjacent classrooms, which provide space for crafts and language classes, seminars and lectures.

The building contains exhibit/gallery spaces, collection care and storage areas, classrooms, a library and archives with research space, a museum store and administrative offices. Ongoing carving displays in the canoe shed and storytelling in the amphitheater make this a living museum.

The landscape surrounding the MLRC was designed to enhance and intensify the concept of the facility being a living eco-museum illustrating the relationship between the Tribe and the environment of South Puget Sound. A boardwalk connects the three buildings in the cultural center complex and surrounds a beautiful water feature resembling a typical South Puget Sound shoreline. Mount Rainier, called “Tahoma” by the region’s first people and believed to hold great mystical power, can be seen across the water. This masterful plan delineates the atmosphere of a traditional shoreline village.