Indigenous Design Matters – Laurentian University Research Week 2016

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David Speaking at Laurentian University, March 1st 2016. Regalia to right of table designed by Celeste Pedri-Spade

As part of Laurentian University’s Research WeekFebruary 29th to March 4th, David presented a talk titled “Indigenous Design Matters: Emerging Directions in Architectural Research” that expressed the importance of place and culture based design for indigenous communities in Canada. Only scratching the surface on this immense topic, David presented recent research by architectural theorist Juhani Pallasmaa and Harry Francis Mallgrave on the topic of “Architecture and Neuroscience.” In this important collaboration linking design and scientific thinking it is argued that “The built environment is initially perceived emotionally – that is, prior to our conscious reflection on its many details.” (1)

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This research reconfirms that humans experience space holistically and phenomenologically in a complex and intuitive way. Alberto Perez-Gomez has recently written about contemporary architecture’s failure to understand design in such complex terms, as they “still generally assume that the sites they build upon have few, if any, truly intrinsic qualities, beyond those that can be described ‘objectively’ through physical geography, morphology, geometric cartography, and the science…” (2) The tragic shooting in La Loche, Saskatchewan in January, offered a clear example of how emotional the relationship between buildings and emotions can be. The initial response from this  largely Métis and non-treaty Dene community was that the building should be demolished to assist in the grieving process.

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Online story from the CBC regarding the La Loche tragedy.

In this case, the building itself is deeply intertwined with a community’s emotional response to a horrific event, a response that may have been similar in any community across the country. But given the long standing relationship between indigenous people and colonization, and particularly the residential school system’s haunting legacy, it is also worth considering the continued imposition of non-indigenous design and construction methods in indigenous communities. To further reflect on this, we might consider this description of the relationship between place and colonization by authors Tuck and Yang.

Within settler colonialism, the most important concern is land/water/air/subterranean earth (land, for shorthand, in this article.) Land is what is most valuable, contested, required. This is both because the settlers make Indigenous land their new home and source of capital, and also because the disruption of Indigenous relationships to land represents a profound epistemic, ontological, cosmological violence. This violence is not temporally contained in the arrival of the settler but is reasserted each day of occupation. (3)

Given the weight of this ongoing predicament, it seems essential to consider how this relationship can be reimagined moving forward. In this talk, examples of contemporary indigenous architects working with communities were offered as examples of how this can be improved, including the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute designed by Douglas Cardinal with Rubin Rotman Architects, the First Peoples House at the University of Victoria designed by Alfred Waugh, and design-build explorations led by Jake Chakasim with McEwen School of Architecture students.

Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute (Source)

Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute (Source)

First Peoples House, designed by Alfred Waugh (Source)

First Peoples House, designed by Alfred Waugh (Source)

McEwen School of Architecture students explore an intuitive design-build process with instructor Jake Chakasim as part of a course on Indigenous Precedents.

McEwen School of Architecture students explore an intuitive design-build process with instructor Jake Chakasim as part of a course on Indigenous Precedents. (Photo: McEwen School of Architecture)

The talk used this context to present a case for better understanding what a Métis architectural approach might be and how it could better resonate with Métis communities across the country, using specific examples found throughout this research blog.

David with Laurentian Colleagues during Research Week day focused on Indigenous topics. (L to R: Sheila Cote-Meek, David, Michelle Coupal, Celeste Pedri-Spade, Susan Manitowabi, Daniel Cote, and Taima Moeke-Pickering)

David with Laurentian University Colleagues during Research Week day focused on indigenous topics. (L to R: Sheila Cote-Meek, David, Michelle Coupal, Celeste Pedri-Spade, Susan Manitowabi, Daniel Cote, and Taima Moeke-Pickering)

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Poster of Laurentian University Research Week 2016

 

Notes

(1) Pallasmaa, J., Mallgrave, H. F., and Arbib, M. (2013). Architecture and Neuroscience. ed. Tidwell, P. Finland. p. 27 (Available online)

(2) Perez-Gomez, A. (2016). Attunement: Architectural meaning after the crisis of modern science. Cambridge: MIT Press. p. 107

(3) Tuck, E., and Yang, K. W. (2012). “Decolonization is not a metaphor.” Decolonization: Indignity, Education & Society. 1:1, pp. 1-40 (Available online)

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