Chris Cornelius is the founding principal of studio:indigenous, a design and consulting practice. An enrolled member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, he dedicates studio:indigenous to serving American Indian clients. In addition to his studio work, Cornelius is an associate professor of architecture at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His research and practice focus on the architectural translation of culture—American Indian culture in particular.
One project that exemplifies this issue of architectural translation is the Indian Community School of Milwaukee (ICS), where Cornelius served as a cultural consultant and design collaborator with Antoine Predock. The school teaches cultural values while educating young people and serves as a community center, providing gathering spaces and services for the American Indian population in Milwaukee. ICS’s innovative, community-building design earned it the 2009 AIA Design Excellence award.
Cornelius contributed important elements to the ICS complex, notably an outdoor Sweatlodge Changing Room. The small angular structure “takes its inspiration from stones found on-site.” Cornelius intended the changing room to look “as if it had emerged from the Earth and always been there, as opposed to an alien structure/shed that had been placed there.” He also designed a series of angular wood furniture pieces for ICS that reflect the landforms of the American southwest: the mountain, mesa, and mound.
A recent project, a design concept for an Oneida Visitors Center on the Oneida Indian Reservation, continues Cornelius’ translation project by communicating Oneida culture through architectural form. As part of a larger campus plan for the Oneida Cultural Heritage site west of Green Bay, the design is intended to portray the “Sky Woman” from Oneida cosmology.
Cornelius has received many honors for his artistic and architectural work. As an Artist in Residence at the National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian, he created a visual translation of the Oneida cosmology. He has won the Ken Roberts Architectural Delineation Competition (KRob) multiple times. He also led a design studio that won a NCARB Prize in 2007 for the design of affordable, sustainable, modular housing. Cornelius’ work on the Indian Community School of Milwaukee and Oneida Maple Sugar Camp is highlighted in New Architecture on Indigenous Lands, a 2013 book by Joy Monice Malnar and Frank Vodvarka.
Cornelius holds a master of architecture degree from the University of Virginia and a bachelor of science in architectural studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. As a professor at UW-Milwaukee, Cornelius teaches undergraduate and graduate students in architecture, with a special interest in visual thinking and mapping.