Building the future: designing indigenous architecture

Architect Sam Olbekson talks to Ann Gray FRICS about working with Indigenous American communities on projects that mean a great deal to them


  • Modus staff

29 June 2022

Collage of Ann Gray and Sam Olbekson

In the latest episode of Building the Future, RICS’ President-Elect Ann Gray FRICS speaks to Indigenous American architect Sam Olbekson, a citizen of the White Earth Nation of Minnesota Ojibwe.

Olbekson, who works with indigenous organisations across the US, describes how and why he launched a Native-owned architecture practice, Full Circle Indigenous Planning & Design. He says that having a small company has allowed him to develop a sense of trust with people that is harder to achieve if you are a large practice coming into a small community.

They also discuss the fine line between cultural appropriation and cultural specificity, as well as the process of working with communities who have never undertaken a building project before. Olbekson highlights the different goals and priorities of the wide range of indigenous communities living in the US and describes the value of a well-executed project.

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Headshot photo Ann Gray

Ann Gray FRICS

Ann Gray FRICS, FAIA, is both a licensed architect and real estate broker. As principal at Gray Real Estate Advisors she consults to property owners, brokers, and land use attorneys on entitlements, development and positioning to optimise the value of complex properties. Ann is RICS' President-Elect.

Headshot photo Sam Olbekson

Sam Olbekson

Sam Olbekson is the founding principal and CEO of Full Circle Indigenous Planning & Design. As an Indigenous American architect with over 25 years’ experience, he is committed to helping advance the cultural preservation, economic growth, health, and well-being of Native communities through sound planning and practical design strategies.


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