Brick by Brick: Preserving the Diaspora

NAASR Vartan Gregorian Armenian Center
Belmont, Massachusetts

Cultural preservation has a unique meaning for a nation whose people are scattered across the globe. For the Armenian Diaspora, their rich, 3,000-year-old history is both a foundation for cultural unity and a gateway for cultural evolution. Over the past six decades, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) has advanced this cultural project by encouraging scholars and the Armenian community to explore the narratives informing their heritage, many of which are housed in the renowned library of its headquarters.

Due to their growing collection of texts, community events, and expanding outreach efforts, NAASR chose to renovate their headquarters building, originally purchased in 1989. The transformation coincided with other innovative plans to further expand NAASR’s global influence. Both through the building design and the narratives it shelters, NAASR will invite modern users to connect with their past while finding inspiration for their next steps. SMMA extensively studied Armenian architecture and craft for the new headquarters, incorporating cultural elements such as a large wooden door, hand-carved in the homeland by a master craftsman, and precast panels enriched with authentic Armenian designs.

The new NAASR design is rooted in deep observation and imagination. SMMA studied Armenian architecture and craft as a means to explore new ideas.

Ancient texts from the NAASR Vartan Gregorian Armenian Center

Engaging with Ancient Texts

Central to the project is the headquarters’ Mardigian Library, a celebrated feat of preservation for the diaspora. Armenia’s rich scholarly history, dating back to the inception of the Armenian alphabet in the early 5th century, is reflected in the library’s literature and research.

Just as the alphabet gave early Armenians access to scholarly studies, the newly expanded three-story library also welcomes scholarly engagement. Community members and visitors can explore over 27,000 titles and resources, including maps, music recordings, numerous rare periodicals and collections, and a Special Collections room with ancient texts dating back to the 17th century. Each historical treasure documents and preserves an important piece of Armenian culture, history, and identity.

Welcoming a New Generation

The rest of the historic-laden interiors also connects generations. A stone lobby with tile floor, accented wall, and wood ceilings greets new visitors. An alluring bookstore display complements a new adjoining lounge café. Both new and tenured scholars benefit from an expanded study and research space. Ultimately, the new headquarters is a building that both tells and protects stories. The intangibility of cultural identity – so often reliant on oral traditions, rituals, and events – suddenly becomes tangible, and thus available to anyone who is interested.

Interior shot of the NAASR Vartan Gregorian Armenian Center
Guest lecturers at the NAASR Vartan Gregorian Armenian Center

A Global Community

With NAASR’s building having remained virtually unchanged since its initial purchase in 1989, their community is welcoming the new look with open arms.

“NAASR will be a true gem and a draw for everyone – Armenians and non-Armenians alike,” says Sarah Ignatius, Executive Director. “Since NAASR is a leading global center for Armenian Studies, our new headquarters building will incorporate a multitude of beautiful Armenian features that will reflect our mission and give Armenian traditions new life."