The architect known for designing the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian was at the University of Saskatchewan May 9 to unveil his official plans for the Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre.
Douglas Cardinal, who is of Blackfoot and Métis heritage, presented not only the site specifications and digital renderings of the building but also the cultural philosophy of the design.
He explained that the student centre will model traditional aboriginal lodges by placing the entrance at the south of the building, the direction that migratory animals go during the winter.
“The important thing is to have a presence architecturally for First Nations people on the campus, given there are many First Nations students here and in the future even more because of population trends,” Cardinal said at the evening presentation in the Arts Building.
“This is an amazing opportunity to bring [U of S President Peter MacKinnon’s] dream into reality because it takes a great deal of forward thinking to recognize the First Nations have a rightful place in society and a rightful place in all of our institutions.”
The building will house both the Indigenous Students’ Council and the Aboriginal Students’ Centre with additional space for learning and ceremonies.The 1,884-square-metre design features Indigenous culture and spirituality. The exterior, like much of Cardinal’s previous work, is marked with flowing curves, window walls and smooth lines. The ceiling will display a large medicine wheel — a circle painted in four colours that represent the four directions used in traditional First Nations teachings and healing.
The centre will be “a vibrant inclusive gathering place for all,” MacKinnon said.
Cardinal has designed a number of notable buildings including the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que., the First Nations University of Canada in Regina and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
Construction of the Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre is slated to begin late 2012, with an expected completion date in 2014.
The student centre will be built along Wiggins Avenue between the Arts Tower and Murray Library. According to former aboriginal issues adviser to the U of S and recently appointed Saskatchewan Treaty Commissioner George Lafond, the highly visible site was chosen to more easily share Indigenous culture with all students.
Aboriginal students currently make up roughly eight per cent of the U of S student body — the largest total aboriginal enrollment among major Canadian universities. However, first- to second-year retention rates amongst aboriginal students at the university are as low as 55 per cent.The new student centre will provide a welcoming cultural setting for aboriginal students coming from various communities and backgrounds and will help these students integrate into the university’s learning environment.
The initiative was first considered in 1998 when NOVA Chemicals made a $1-million donation to the university specifically for aboriginal student space. In 2006, the board of governors approved hiring consultants to proceed with the design of the centre.
In October 2011, the university announced it had secured funding and would be moving forward on the $15-million project.
[box type=”info” border=”none”]View more photos of the May 9 ceremony on the U of S Flickr page.[/box]
Photos: Liam Richards/U of S