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Four Winds High School

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1983, Surrounded by Enemy, Charles Archambault, and Neal A. McCaleb. 7268 ND 57, Spirit Lake Reservation Sioux Band (Santee Sioux Nation)
  • (Photograph by Steve C. Martens)

Working closely with the tribal council, Native American architects from three tribal nations collaborated on the design of this school. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) design review committee, comprised mainly of Euro-Americans, was reluctant to accept a circular building because of concerns for the cost of such an unorthodox geometric configuration. The local tribal council and Native American architects for the building regarded the unifying tradition of the circle and practical space planning as compatible goals. During the planning stages, the functionality of the design was also criticized by the educators assigned to teach in the school. As constructed, the plan is circular, except for a rectangular extension that contains the gymnasium. Corridors lead from entrances at the four cardinal points to the central space where there is a symbolic eagle enclosure that controls light and sound. This space also contains a hard-sided symbolic tipi with two carpeted levels, used for counseling. Reportedly the Native American principal architect, Surrounded by Enemy, recommended a sweat lodge in this central location, but a separate consulting firm hired by the BIA to supervise construction opted for the more obvious but less conceptually suitable tipi. In the interest of energy conservation, the school’s exterior has no windows, but desirable daylight is admitted through skylights, and the walls are bermed into the site. Surrounded by Enemy designed vertical concrete signposts at each entrance that are ornamented by abstract representations of an animal or natural spirit (buffalo, bird, elk, and thunder) associated with the cardinal directions. An overall design objective was to increase consciousness and pride in cultural traditions among students attending the school. The ability of public school education to deliver on that objective seems often to be inhibited by administrative constraints on the architectural process, as, for example, at Standing Rock Community High School (SI1) in Fort Yates.

Writing Credits

Steve C. Martens and Ronald H. L. M. Ramsay



  • 1983


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Steve C. Martens and Ronald H. L. M. Ramsay, "Four Winds High School", [Fort Totten, North Dakota], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of North Dakota

Buildings of North Dakota, Steve C. Martens and Ronald H. L. M. Ramsay. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015, 116-116.

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