Storytelling Through Design

It is legend that within the Smoky Mountains, there is a magic lake that humans cannot see.

The Cherokee call it Atagahi, and it is said to heal all who enter its waters, but it is only accessible to the animals. Although the lake is forever barricaded from humans, on cool mornings you may be able see the mist that rises from the magic lake from Clingmans Dome – the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

This is just one excerpt from the many legends that paint the rich culture of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. In the many ways their people look toward the future, they also work to preserve their heritage through their native language, unique community holidays, oral tradition and art.

In the 2015 construction of their community hospital, which included both inpatient and outpatient services, the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority (CIHA) in Cherokee, North Carolina, wanted to incorporate architectural nods to their heritage throughout the design. Today, they’re found in the rotunda’s basket-like appearance, the exterior finishing design, and perhaps most iconically – in the terrazzo flooring, where visitors can chronologically walk along the legend of the first fire.

When the CIHA partnered with Robins & Morton again to build Phase II of the hospital – a crisis stabilization and behavioral health addition – they wanted to continue that effort. By capturing the spirit and stories of the Cherokee people, the building’s design serves as a reminder of the hospital’s guiding principle – ni hi tsa tse liit belongs to you.

Listen to the interview below with Jody Lipscomb, retired CIHA Public Relations Officer who now serves as the facility’s art consultant, and Robins & Morton Superintendent Josh Farr, on how they worked to incorporate the legend of the magic lake into the new addition while effectively tying it to Phase I.

Storytelling Through Design from Robins & Morton on Vimeo.