Building on South Dakota Universities: SDSU American Indian Student Center

(This series was intended to highlight the new construction, renovation and upgrades to the state universities in South Dakota. Content was submitted by the architects of the projects or by the universities.)

(Content and images submitted by TSP, Inc.)

American Indians make up approximately 9 percent of South Dakota’s population—but only around 1 percent of South Dakota State University’s student body. SDSU President Barry Dunn, an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, aims to align those figures more closely through his multifaceted Wokini Initiative.

The new American Indian Student Center is the most visible pillar of that program, serving as a campus home-away-from-home for young men and women of indigenous heritage. TSP and cultural design consultant Dennis Sun Rhodes engaged elders, emerging leaders, educators, and students from all nine tribes in the state. All agreed that Native influences should be subtly infused into the new center, not overtly displayed in strictly historical forms.

The design follows the guiding philosophy that as we gather in this special place of acceptance and learning, we all will bring different essential gifts. We are connected but individually valued. All belong.

Exterior of Multipurpose Room

Exterior materials and finishes evoke the state’s landscape: vertical elements for prairie grasses, glazing panels for the Missouri River, and masonry outcroppings for the Badlands. The sacred Black Hills and its Needles formations are represented by narrow, vertical brick patterns in light hues against a darker brick background.

Interior of Multipurpose Room

An octagonal multipurpose room is clad in reflective metal tiles whose colors depict a rising fire against a blue sky. Inside, students can use that intimate area to practice their drumming or singing, seek counsel from an elder, or come together in small groups. The names of the original Seven Council Fires of the Oceti Sakowin people, engraved on wood planks, encircle the room. The material itself was hewn from an old tree salvaged on campus—which stands on the ancestral lands of the Oceti Sakowin. Indigenous plants and native grasses will be planted throughout the site, contributing to the building’s distinct presence at the heart of campus.


Inside, a spacious lobby with fireplace welcomes visitors. The nine tribal flags are proudly displayed along with murals and original art pieces from local indigenous artists. Wood ceiling accents in multiple spaces echo the traditional star-quilt pattern, blending old and new forms in an environment designed to encourage inclusive practices.

A student suite includes a kitchen to support the tradition of forging relationships through shared meals, while the adjacent student workroom provides a space to express cultural pride through arts and crafts projects. A second-floor study loft offers a casual space for collaboration and connections. The 11,640 sf facility is designed to exceed LEED v4 Silver requirements.

TSP, Inc. is a fully integrated architecture, planning, engineering, and interior design firm now celebrating its 90th anniversary. We’re built around a few beliefs that resonate with our team members in communities across the Upper Midwest, including locations in Sioux Falls and Rapid City. The heart of this philosophy stretches back to founder Harold Spitznagel’s credo to design it like we own it. Our people create legacy buildings that fit our clients’ needs today and are flexible to serve them well into the future. Through teamwork, service, and passion, our people listen and develop a deep understanding of each client’s “why.” We collaborate with project owners, consultants, and construction partners to build trust-based relationships and discover solutions that combine form, function, and economy. We’ve dedicated ourselves to pursuits that hold the greatest potential to uplift our shared quality of life: education, civic, and healthcare projects. We’re building better communities, by design.

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