Native American brings heritage to architecture

Karl Lusis was shocked when he learned he was the first American Indian in Wisconsin to be licensed as an architect.
Lusis, 33, opened Standing Stone Design LLC, his own architectural design firm on 217 W. Reservoir St. just north of downtown Milwaukee last summer.
Raised in the city, Lusis attended the Milwaukee Public School system and at the time was teased for his ethnicity.
"I always identified myself as an Indian," Lusis said.
Today, he’s proud of that heritage and has incorporated it into his field of work.
Lusis has been hired to design the Oneida Museum and Cultural Center on the Oneida Reservation in northeastern Wisconsin.
"It’s a good stepping stone for me," said Lusis, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin.
The project, estimated at $8 million and with 45,000 square feet of space, will be a joint design effort between Lusis and two other firms: Plunkett Raysich Architects of Milwaukee and Two Row Architect of Ontario, Canada.
Lusis wants to use his American Indian background in his other design projects as well.
"Being an American Indian gives me an advantage over other firms," Lusis said about working with American Indian communities.
The desire to work on American Indian projects is one of the reasons that Lusis opened Standing Stone Design.
Along with working on his own projects, Lusis will subcontract work from Engberg Anderson Design Partnership in Milwaukee.
However, he wants to work mainly on American Indian projects and plans to be selective in the projects that he pursues.
Lusis uses his heritage and his family, especially his 94-year-old grandmother, when formulating ideas for upcoming projects.
"The passion to work for the community that allowed me to fulfill my dream of becoming an architect," Lusis said.
The name Standing Stone Designs comes from People of Standing Stone, another name for the Oneida people. According to Lusis, the Oneida people built their communities in a circle and surrounded it with timber palisades. According to legend, a large stone would be placed at the gate, the only opening to the community.
Lusis described the name, Standing Stone Designs, as having "a Native American flair with an architectural flair."
In the past, Lusis has witnessed architects incorporating American Indian elements into their designs erroneously, such as a Plains Indian’s teepee for a Woodland Indian’s building, or incorporating a feather headdress into a design. "They used too simple of a statement of who Indians are," Lusis said.
Lusis plans to use ancient design concepts combined with modern materials. He wants no material to be wasted. "It’s the right thing to do in general, but being an Indian, people look to you to be a leader," Lusis said of his environmentally friendly developments and designs.
He plans to have no shortage of developments from American Indian communities, as he expects gaming compacts to create many new projects. Casinos and their expansions are obvious examples.
Lusis also envisions civic structures, schools, health clinics and many other community buildings being built. "I perceive many things coming out of the gaming compacts," he said.
Lusis is pursuing two other new projects. The first is with the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa, who are planning a health center, a record storage building and a government administrative building. The other is with a casino and hotel expansion in Michigan.
"I see myself slowly developing the company and maybe taking on a partner or two," Lusis said.

Jan. 9, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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