June is National Indigenous History Month, and June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day. To celebrate, we’ve gathered several articles on Indigenous architecture that have previously been published in the Journal of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada.
Indigenous architectures have histories as long as the diverse Indigenous communities and nations of Turtle Island (North America). Scholars generally understand contemporary Indigenous architecture as emerging with Indigenous anti-colonial political organizing and activism in the 1960s and 70s. Recent architectural scholarship takes a global perspective that attends to both cultural specificity and international political framings of Indigeneity. Similarly, Canada’s entry to the 2018 Venice Biennale, Unceded: Voices of the Land, presented the work of eighteen Indigenous architects and designers from across Turtle Island.
Keep reading for more on Indigenous architecture in the JSSAC as well as suggestions for further reading.
“The Assemblage of Kikino (‘Our Home’): Métis Material Culture and Architectural Design in the Alberta Settlements”
Exterior of Muskeg Home, East Prairie Settlement (Photo: David T. Fortin)
In his 2015 study, David Fortin examines architecture in the Métis settlements of Alberta. Established in 1938 through the Métis Population Betterment Act, these settlements provided Alberta Métis with homelands that acted as “a blank geographical canvas on which to design and build a profound sense of place.”
Fortin argues that traditional log building in the settlements had and continues to have a “territorializing” or homogenizing effect due to communal building practices and the use of local materials. He cites recent domestic architecture “with a remarkable resemblance to the nineteenth-century folk home, demonstrating some continuity of material and spatial tendencies.” These building practices create “an essential link between residents and their cherished homeland.”
“Deterritorialization,” by contrast, occurs with increased contact with non-Indigenous communities, including road access, communications technologies, building code requirements, prefabrication, and the availability of manufactured construction materials. Fortin proposes that the resulting disconnection between Métis identity and architecture can be reconnected not solely by returning to traditional building, but by exploring how contemporary Métis architecture can become culturally expressive through a community-engaged process. Read the article.
“Organic Architecture and Indigenous Design Tenets: Frank Lloyd Wright in Relation to the Work of Douglas Cardinal”
Master plan for the Yellow Quill First Nation by Douglas Cardinal Architect, 2009 (Douglas Cardinal Architect Inc.)
Rebecca Lemire’s article, which won the Martin Eli Weil Prize in 2013, analyzes relationships among Frank Lloyd Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture, the work of Douglas Cardinal, and First Nations approaches to architecture. Similarities among these include aspects such as holism, affinities with the natural environment, the metaphorical importance of fire, and open plans. “In their respective writings,” Lemire notes, “both Wright and Cardinal describe the ideal building as ‘growing’ from its site in a manner compatible with its natural surroundings.”
Although Wright’s work has had an observable influence on Cardinal, the latter’s architecture is “uniquely Indigenous.” In an analysis of several pairs of master plans by the two architects, Lemire argues that while Wright’s projects are aesthetically and environmentally integrated, they are socially isolated. In contrast, Cardinal’s schemes promote community engagement and social integration.
Further parallels between schools and other public buildings by Wright and Cardinal in turn resonate with traditional Indigenous architectures. However, Lemire concludes by noting that “Wright’s approach to design sharply diverges from First Nations practices in that he champions individual land ownership, privacy, and a secluded relationship with nature, while many First Nations cultures require a highly communal way of life, based on a shared experience of the environment and its resources.” Read the article.
“Re-Building Memories: On the Reconstruction of a ‘Traditional’ Longhouse”
Tsawwassen Longhouse plan (left) and front elevation (right) (Drawings: Daniel Millette)
In this short, descriptive paper from 2002, Daniel Millette addresses the coexistence of “traditional” and “modern” construction techniques and materials in contemporary Indigenous architecture. He examines a longhouse built at the Tsawwassen First Nation in the late 1990s, which was constructed according to the verbal instructions of elders.
The longhouse features two distinct structural systems: a post-and-beam structure that echoes historic Coast Salish buildings, which is further enclosed by a stud wall system. The former delineates a traditional space with fire pits and an earth floor, while the latter provides space for bench seating around the traditional space as well as secondary uses. Millette argues that the Tsawwassen longhouse “juxtaposes two moments, produces two spaces, and, in turn, generates a new architectural form.” Read the article.
“The First Nation Architectural Landscape: Considering a Neglected Architectural History”
First Nations House of Learning, University of British Columbia (left) and Seabird Island First Nation School (right) (Photos: Daniel M. Millette)
In this article, Daniel Millette and Amy Oliver outline the state of scholarship on First Nations architecture as it was in 2012. While there is much information on precontact architectural practices in the archaeological, anthropological, and historical records, the field of architectural history had not yet delved into these sources or addressed the topic in any detail. There had likewise been few efforts to document contemporary Indigenous architectures, which the authors see as comprising structures that reflect the reemergence of cultural practices, as well as those that simultaneously address specific community needs and showcase First Nations cultures. In this light, the authors note that “it is no surprise that a survey of the curricula of the architecture schools in Canada shows almost no focus on First Nation architectural design, theory, or history.”
Millette and Oliver propose a framework for documenting Indigenous architecture through what they call the contact, traditional practice, purpose-built, and cultural showcase fields. They argue that these architectures constitute a “First Nation Vernacular” in that “they are designed with traditional elements in mind, involve considerable community input within the design (and often the building process), contain a high element of community pride, and incorporate environmental sensitivity throughout the design process.” The amount of scholarship on Indigenous architectures has increased significantly since the publication of this article, including significant contributions by Indigenous scholars. However, it offers a snapshot of the field at a given moment, as well as entry points for further research. Read the article.
“Treaty Lands, Global Stories: Designing an Inclusive Curriculum”
“What Binds Us” installation (Photo: Amina Lalor)
In 2018, Samuel Ganton, Amina Lalor, and Paniz Moayeri reported on Treaty Lands, Global Stories (TLGS), a student-led initiative that they founded at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture in 2016. TLGS aims “for greater diversity in the University of Waterloo’s architectural curriculum to reflect the Indigenous heritage of the land on which the school is situated, as well as the diversity within the school’s student body.”
Acknowledging the settler-colonial context of architectural education and practice in Canada, TLGS comprised three main activities: a review of the literature on the Western canon in architectural education, a survey of architecture school curricula, as well as community engagement. In their examination of curricula, the authors found that “[w]ith the exception of Laurentian University, no curriculum prescribes core courses on Indigenous content or devotes core courses to non-Western theory and history.” Although the issue of curriculum creation presents more questions than answers, the authors insist that “[t]he one imperative is the inclusion of Indigenous culture and history.” As the work of TLGS continues, their call for reexamining architecture school curricula and the inclusion of Indigenous architecture remains powerfully relevant. On this topic, see also Patrick Robert Reid Stewart’s dissertation, listed below. Read the article.
- Rebecca Kiddle, luugigyoo patrick stewart, and Kevin O’Brien, eds., Our Voices: Indigeneity and Architecture ([Novato, California]: ORO Editions, 2018).
- Elizabeth Grant, Kelly Greenop, Albert L. Refiti, and Daniel J. Glenn, The Handbook of Contemporary Indigenous Architecture (Singapore: Springer, 2018).
- Janet McGaw and Anoma Pieris, Assembling the Centre: Architecture for Indigenous Cultures: Australia and Beyond (London: Routledge, 2016).
- Anoma Pieris, Indigenous Cultural Centers and Museums: An Illustrated International Survey (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).
- Joy Monice Malnar and Frank Vodvarka, New Architecture on Indigenous Lands (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).
- Fred Georgekish, Iiyiyuu Miichiwaahp-h = Traditional Architecture of the Wemindji Cree (Wemindji, Quebec: Cree Nation of Wemindji, 1996).
- Carol Herselle Krinsky, Contemporary Native American Architecture: Cultural Regeneration and Creativity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).
- Peter Nabokov and Robert Easton, Native American Architecture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).
- Douglas Cardinal and George Melnyk, Of the Spirit: Writings (Edmonton: NeWest Press, 1977).
- Harriet Burdett-Moulton, Wanda Dalla Costa, Kelly Edzerza-Bapty, and Ouri Scott, “Indigenous Perspectives on the Notions of Architecture,” interview by Tiffany Shaw-Collinge, The Site Magazine 38: Feminisms (n.d.).
- David T. Fortin and Jason Surkan, “Towards an Architecture of Métis Resistance,” The Site Magazine 36: Vernaculars (n.d.).
- Daniel Viola, “Canada 150: The Integral Role of Indigenous Architects,” Azure Magazine, June 27, 2017.
- David Burley, “Creolization and Late Nineteenth Century Métis Vernacular Log Architecture on the South Saskatchewan River,” Historical Archaeology 34, no. 3 (2000): 27–35.
- David V. Burley and Gayel A. Horsfall, “Vernacular Houses and Farmsteads of the Canadian Métis,” Journal of Cultural Geography 10, no. 1 (1989): 19–33.
- David Fortin, “From Indian to Indigenous Agency: Opportunities and Challenges for Architectural Design,” in Design and Agency: Critical Perspectives on Identities, Histories, and Practices, ed. John Potvin and Marie-Ève Marchand (London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020), 243–258.
- David Fortin, Jason Surkan, and Danielle Kastelein, “Métis Domestic Thresholds and the Politics of Imposed Privacy,” in Our Voices: Indigeneity and Architecture, ed. Rebecca Kiddle, luugigyoo patrick stewart, and Kevin O’Brien ([Novato, California]: ORO Editions, 2018), 76–84.
- Wanda Dalla Costa, “Metrics and Margins: Envisioning Frameworks in Indigenous Architecture in Canada,” in The Handbook of Contemporary Indigenous Architecture, ed. Elizabeth Grant et al. (Singapore: Springer, 2018), 194.
- Adrian Tanner, “Architecture Without Rooms: Cree Dwellings and Social Order,” in Together We Survive: Ethnographic Intuitions, Friendships, and Conversations, ed. John S. Long and Jennifer S.H. Brown (McGill Queen’s University Press, 2016), 71–90.
- Wanda Dalla Costa, “An Emerging Narrative: Aboriginal Contributions to Canadian Architecture,” in Hidden in Plain Sight: Contributions of Aboriginal Peoples to Canadian Identity and Culture, ed. Cora J. Voyageur, David R. Newhouse, and Dan Beavon, vol. 2, 2 vols. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 356–79.
- Daniel M. Millette, “Memory, the Architecture of First Nations, and the Problem with History,” in Architecture and the Canadian Fabric, ed. Rhodri Windsor Liscombe (Vancouver; Toronto: UBC Press, 2011), 467–78.
- Susane Havelka, “Building with IQ (Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit): The Rise of a Hybrid Design Tradition in Canada’s Eastern Arctic” (PhD diss., McGill University, 2018).
- Patrick Robert Reid Stewart, “Indigenous Architecture through Indigenous Knowledge: Dim Sagalts’apkw Nisiḿ [Together We Will Build a Village]” (PhD diss., University of British Columbia, 2015).
- Anne Lawrason Marshall, “Indigenous Architecture: Envisioning, Designing, and Building the Museum At Warm Springs” (PhD diss., Arizona State University, 2012).
- Craig Phillip Howe, “Architectural Tribalism in the Native American New World” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1995).
- Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, Highlights Report: RAIC International Indigenous Architecture and Design Symposium (May 27, 2017).
- Louise Atkins and Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, Four Case Studies Exemplifying Best Practices in Architectural Co-design and Building with First Nations.
- Douglas Cardinal, Daniel Glenn, Brian McCormack, Eladia Smoke, and Patrick Stewart, “Redevelopment and Reconciliation: Urban Planning and Northwest Indigenous Architecture,” roundtable at SAH 2020 Virtual Conference, moderated by Anne Marshall, May 19, 2020.
- John Lewis, “David Fortin on Indigenous Design,” 360 Degree City podcast, March 18, 2019.