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What is Indigenous Futurism?

Indigenous Futurism will serve as the overarching theme of ISAPD’s residency. Indigenous Futurism envisions narratives and environments—built and natural—to realize architectural sovereignty, guided by the lenses of technology, alternative worlds, science fiction, and studies of temporality. Speculative design projects within the theme of Indigenous Futurism help us to think critically about tradition, revolution, and reconstructive practices in our built environments.

Throughout their residency, ISAPD will explore architectural sovereignty through the lenses of technology, alternative worlds, science fiction, and temporality. Sutton and Gallegos will seek the expertise of Indigenous leaders to determine best practices in designing for Indigenous communities, while highlighting architectural designs by Indigenous architects to provide a foundation for analysis of contemporary architectural issues unique to Indigenous communities. ISAPD will also examine the cultural center as an integral resource in the preservation of Indigenous lifeways.

Defining Indigenous Futurism

Indigenous Futurism confronts past and present colonial ramifications, transforms Indigenous knowledge bases, and imagines ways  to heal and build better futures for Indigenous communities and for 21st-century culture. Adaptability has been part of Indigenous living for time immemorial. Adjusting to change requires insight, forethought, and the ability to envision the future. It is a responsible process one carries as decisions are made and as actions are taken. Historically, Indigenous Futurism has imagined and acted on the challenges, solutions, and potential circumstances and conditions the future holds to ensure the livelihood of the next generations. Today, Indigenous Futurism continues to develop into an expanding genre of imagery, object, and literary work at the intersection of Indigeneity and 21st-century science fiction, technology, alternative worlds, and studies of temporality.

For Indigenous nations, futurism is a path to exercise and celebrate tribal sovereignty. Just as origin stories, languages, and life ways vary from nation to nation, tribal architectures express unique identities. Indigenous space time, contact, scientific literacies, environmental sustainability, apocalypse, and revolution are themes of Indigenous futurism that can be embodied through architecture.1 Multi-dimensional harmony and human relation to all living elements are common tenets within Indigenous ideology.2 Architecture is a mediator between these living elements: the autumn’s breeze, the minor movement of the north star, the migratory paths of animals, the growth of evergreens. It safeguards, protects, and promotes practices and life ways that have been fine tuned for millennia. The architectures of Indigenous Futurism open the door toward restoring the balance between humans and living elements while expanding the possibilities of the built environment.    

Challenging the current status quo and capabilities of architecture is vital to propelling Indigenous architecture and all architecture into the future. Respect, restraint, reciprocity, long-term sustainability, acknowledging the history of a place, and acknowledging natural cycles are a few of many Indigenous thought principles that all architecture can respond to. These principles can be manifested through material selection, the life-span of built works, construction methods, and more. Ultimately, envisioning future scenarios can change the way architecture is created and interacted with. 

Dennis Numkena (Hopi) is considered to be one of the first Indigenous Futurists in the architecture profession. Starting from the late 1960s, his work has incorporated elements of southwestern Indigenous and Mayan architecture combined with otherworldly elements, telling a story of an imagined future created by and for Indigenous peoples.3

Numkena’s visions are realized in his built projects, including the Pyramid Lake Cultural Center and Museum from in 19764 and the Yavapai-Apache Visitor’s Center5, built in 1981. His artwork takes the space-age motif even further. In Mayan Migration, Numkena depicts a gravity-defying Mayan structure as a space-ship styled complex.6 The oil painting Hopi Migration uses similar geometric forms that are interwoven with rising towers of earth-like material. These formations use ladders as tower spires, connecting the occupants with what could be considered a fourth world.7 Details of Numkena’s space-age towers and spires can also be seen in his work Place of Emergence.8

More contemporary Indigenous futurist works can be seen in projects by the architecturally trained artist Santiago X (Koasati and Hacha’Maori). X’s work, exemplified in his project Hayo Tikba (The Fire Inside)9, focuses on the use of technology as a means to realize relationships between the natural and built environments that we inhabit.

Architecture is fundamental to envisioning a brighter future for Indigenous nations and catalyzing a cognizant American society into a refined 21st century. As a means of passage, Indigenous Futurism preserves traditional bodies of knowledge, challenges the current paradigm, and has the power to transform the spaces we inhabit. 

See further reading on Indigenous Futurism.


1. Dillon, Grace L., Introduction “Imagining Indigenous Futurisms”, Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction, University of Arizona Press, 2012, 1 – 12.
 2. Cajete, Greg. “Native Science: The Indigenous Mind Rising.” University of New England Center for Global Humanities, 24 February 2020, University of New England Center, ME. Keynote Address.
3. Epstein, Danya. “Future Progressive: Dennis Numkena’s Indigenous Futurisms.” Paper presented at the 109th CAA Annual Conference,, February 11, 2021 2021.
4. Krinsky, Carol Herselle. Contemporary Native American Architecture: Cultural Regeneration and Creativity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
5. “Indian Center Symbolizes Old and New.” Arizona Republic, 12 Jun 1981, Fri 1981, 17.
6. Numkena, Dennis. “Mayan Migration.” oil on canvas., c. 1995-96.
7. Numkena, Dennis. “Hopi Migration.” oil on canvas., c. 1995-96.
8. Numkena, Dennis. “Place of Emergence.” oil on canvas., undated.
9. Santiago X. “Hayo Tikba (the Fire inside).” Commissioned by the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial., 2019.

Making Space for Resistance: Past, Present, Future Exhibition Installation, 2019. Image: Courtesy of ISAPD.
Making Space for Resistance: Past, Present, Future Exhibition Installation, 2019. Image: Courtesy of ISAPD.


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