The Turtle may be the oldest symbolic representation for the Mother Earth in the history of North America, and has long been used as a metaphor in Native American philosophy for the continual cycle of give and take that personifies our natural world. With its circular body, the Turtle also personifies the circle of life and its intertwining components of spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual activity.
When the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina embarked on a new construction project for the Lumbee Tribal Housing Complex in West Pembroke, they wanted a building that would evoke that symbolism. Bosco Locklear, housing director for the tribe, recalls: “The turtle has special significance to American Indians. When we were considering ideas for a unique building that would inspire our tribal members, our former tribal administrator, Leon Jacobs, conveyed his vision to our architect, Mike Clark, and thus the ‘Turtle’ was born.”
Native American Design Services of Pembroke, NC was founded by Lumbee tribal member, Michael Clark, AIA, and Clark’s son, Che’, was lead designer for this challenging project. Che’ Clark recalls, “At the outset, our challenge was how to create the exaggerated look of a turtle shell with the roof.”
Having been impressed with the product quality offered by Brian Fritz, the local representative of high-performance roofing manufacturer, The Garland Company, Inc., Clark asked Fritz to work with him to design a roofing solution that would achieve the tribe’s vision while maintaining watertight integrity.
Clark explained, “The Garland product was able to do things others couldn’t. In addition to the giant shell that covers the main office area, the design evokes the upraised head of the turtle at the entryway, its tail where we house the mechanicals, and its four legs. By using varying lengths of standing seam panels in different configurations, sometimes in long linear runs, sometimes curving them along more than one axis, Brian was able to create the dramatic shapes we needed to create not only a shell but a very literal interpretation of the design concept.”
Fritz noted, “The Turtle is a sacred animal to the Lumbee Tribe. Che’ and his team were pretty passionate about setting a certain tone for this building. This is where the tribal members go for assistance with housing and energy, so it was important that the building be welcoming. For those who are not tribal members, it makes a strong statement about the culture and traditions of the Lumbee people.”
Clark reported that insulating the complex shapes of the roof proved a challenge, especially in the narrowed channels that make up the tail and head of the turtle. Spray foam insulation was used in the wall construction to optimize energy efficiency. The design calls for a great deal of natural light flowing through the interior spaces. There is a ring of windows at the center portion of the shell, allowing light to flow into the main conference room beneath it. To minimize heat gain, Clark incorporated glazing and window shades.
Since geometric shapes have always been prevalent in Native American design, Clark incorporated a series of concentric circles within the building’s interior spaces. Although site restrictions made it impossible to give the building a solar orientation, Clark was able to make the entranceway face southeast in order to welcome the sun each day. He concluded, “When we started this project we really did not anticipate that we would be able to create such a literal interpretation of a turtle with this building. The roof is a very impressive element of the design, with its Colonial Red Kynar* fluorocarbon finish…We are serving one of the poorest counties in the state out here. Our firm is very pleased to have participated in such a beautiful project in the heart of our community.”
*Kynar® is a registered trademark of Arkema Inc.