The 3,775-square-foot Délı̨nę Preschool/Daycare building is designed for the care of 25 children from two to five years old. This building, completed in 2021, is the first of its kind to be built in Délı̨nę, a remote, subarctic Dene community located on the western shore of Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories. Délı̨nę, with a population of 550, is in the Sahtu Region, a 41,437 km2 area collectively owned by Sahtu (Dene) and Métis inhabitants in accordance with the 1993 Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement.
The design concept for the preschool/daycare was inspired by the Arctic fish found in Great Bear Lake near Délı̨nę, which means “where the water flows.” This tribute to the Dene people and their respect for fish as an important food source also recognizes its economic value for the Délı̨nę Dene through ecocultural tourism and recreational fishing. Nadji Architects‘ design honours Délı̨nę culture by creating a modern, barrier-free accessible preschool/daycare facility where physical, social, emotional and intellectual well-being contribute to the building of a strong cultural identity for the children.
The seamless integration of the daycare building with the landscape is a key design feature. The Délı̨nę preschool/daycare building celebrates the natural beauty of its surroundings, creating a more cohesive relationship between the children’s inside and outside spaces. This was done by easy indoor–outdoor access and with the design of the outdoor playground. The Délı̨nę community chose a vast open area close to the community’s school, offices, and recreational facilities as the site of the preschool/daycare. The location is convenient for both teachers and parents near these central community buildings.
The Délı̨nę preschool/daycare building is built of simple yet high-quality wood frame construction. The roof consists of TJI joists supporting the skylight. Exterior cladding is employed to resemble fish scales. A Triodetic Multipoint Foundation was used as it is an excellent system for permafrost conditions. Compared to a piling system, Triodetic is economical with respect to the cost of the materials, labour, and winter road conditions in northern communities.
The building was designed with many well-thought-out, original details. The blue skirting represents the water under the floating fish.The circular wall dome glazing was used to create the eye of the fish. The outdoors can be seen panoramically through the eye, creating indoor–outdoor cohesion. The skylight allows both natural light and northern lights into the indoor play area, which invites children to learn and explore. The inventive use of colour and texture delights the eye and captures the imaginative spirit of play in the building.
The renewable, clean energy system includes a fully-automated, highly efficient wood pellet boiler for central heating and hot water. An oil-operated boiler is used as an auxiliary heating system. The shed, in the form of fish scales, is designed to accommodate the pellet boiler. LED lighting is used for the interior. The building is energy efficient with wall and floor assemblies rated R-40 and a roof assembly with a minimum R-60 rating. Windows are triple pane with low “E” argon gas.
This design is a clear representation of the ways architecture affects and is affected by the environment and by culture in a NWT Dene community and is an example of continuing to advance towards reconciliation with Indigenous communities.