A view of the National Museum of the American Indian along the Smithsonian Mall transports passersby from the bustle of the nation's Capitol to the undulating rock formations of the desert Southwest. Layered and curved in earthy tones, the building looks like it was randomly shaped by natural forces over the course of a millennia rather than assembled urgently, but painstakingly, stone by stone, against a three-year deadline.

To achieve the desired appearance, the design team abandoned the panelized stone systems commonly used in Washington D.C. for a random-coursed ashlar veneer of Minnesota Buff limestone. Each of the museum’s five stories uses a different geometric layout, with columns offset from one floor to the next and compound curves requiring 150 different radii in the stone walls. A 65-foot cantilevered overhang that evokes Native American cliff dwelling sites is framed with multiple soffit levels. Exterior walls consist of 120 sq ft of stone veneer in three course heights up to 12 inches, requiring more than 50,000 pieces of varying lengths.