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RAIC to host first-ever indigenous architecture symposium

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by Patricia Williams

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) is poised to host its first-ever indigenous architecture and design symposium next May in Ottawa.
RAIC to host first-ever indigenous architecture symposium

The one-day event, scheduled for May 27 in conjunction with the RAIC/Ontario Association of Architects Festival of Architecture, is the brainchild of the institute's seven-month-old indigenous task force.

Its core purpose is to foster and promote indigenous design in Canada in rural, Metis and Northern communities, First Nations and in urban spaces and advocacy with and on behalf of indigenous communities.

"This is a big topic," task force member David Fortin, assistant professor of architecture at Laurentian University, told a seminar at IIDEXCanada, which is co-presented by the RAIC and the Interior Designers of Canada.

"The first thing to think about, I guess, is what indigenous means."

In his 30-minute presentation, Fortin examined the topic of indigenous architecture and design from four perspectives: indigenous-inspired architecture; architecture designed for indigenous people; architecture by indigenous people; and architecture with indigenous people.

"Those questions are now part of the reason why the RAIC has established an indigenous task force," he said.

Fortin, whose architecture school is thought to be the only one in the world with elders in its design studios, told seminar attendees that the intent to work with indigenous people "must be genuine and invested.

"The metrics for success in terms of indigenous design must not only incorporate indigenous perspectives but also meaningfully involve their design input, their desires and their hopes for the future," he said.

Also at the session, a case study was presented of the Allegany Administration Building, a project in New York State which was designed for the Seneca Nation of Indians. It was completed in 2010.

The goal was to reinterpret Seneca culture in a modern, respectful and authentic manner. The facility was designed in close consultation with the Seneca community.

"From my point of view, it's all about consultation," said Matthew Hickey of Two Row Architect, a firm based on the Six Nations Reserve in Ohsweken, Ont. that designed the facility.

"It is all about communication. It is about getting in there, getting your hands dirty and spending time with people, the users of the building, and learning from them," he said.

The RAIC has issued a call for presentations for the May symposium that focus on best practices and processes in indigenous architecture and design and/or on celebrating indigenous design, architecture and place-making. The deadline is today (Dec. 9).

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