Seven Stones: Aboriginal Wellness Centre

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

In partnership with Kearon Roy Taylor

Professors: Mason White and Lola Sheppard
3rd Year Option Studio, Three Dualisms
Fall 2016, John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design

Project Description:
The gathering together of Seven Stones addresses the challenge of bringing together the diversity and geographic dispersion of the Aboriginal people in the Northwest Territories. Each building is programmed to provide a link to the past while showing a way towards the future. The diversity of the forms and programs are linked together by a mortar that supports the processes and programs dedicated to wellness. Together the stones and mortar encircle a natural rocky outcrop in the site, enhancing the spatial quality of the landscape and reinforcing a sense of belonging where the many are brought together to form a community.

Stone Concept Diagrams

Exposed bedrock is a ubiquitous and beautiful feature in the landscape, and the territory is home to the oldest surface geology in the world. Stone here has an unparalleled capacity for the storage of time; it was here long before us and will remain after we are gone. Aboriginal groups both above and below the treeline have leveraged the capacity of stone to provide wayfinding on a barren landscape, store hunting caches for future need, provide heat and healing, and to provide a strong foundation on which to build community.

From the studio description:
"This option studio asked students to consider three dualisms: (1) contemporary with traditional; (2) architecture with landscape; (3) part with whole

Through these, the studio set out to pursue the possibilities of a contemporary traditional architecture, a proto-vernacular. The context of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories served as a site, a place where cultures and traditions co-mingle in a complex way. Today, Northwest Territories is comprised of 50% Aboriginal people with Yellowknife as the highest territorial concentration of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit residents in the small city of just 20,000. Historically, architecture has not served Canada’s Aboriginal people well. Inadequate models of architecture have been imported often leading to a subtle colonizing impact. The studio seeks an architecture that is culturally grounded, yet resists nostalgia.

These questions were examined through the lens of health and wellbeing, toward the development of an Aboriginal Wellness Centre. The Stanton Territorial Health Authority, an existing health network in NWT currently under renewal, formed the basis by which to develop a design response. In addition to the provocation of “contemporary traditional,” students also considered the relationship of part to whole through the design of a facility supporting health and wellness for Aboriginal peoples throughout NWT. This involved recognizing the challenge of health access and delivery for a dispersed population with minimal infrastructure. In addition, an architecture with integrated relationships to land, seasonality, and territory are essential in this cultural climate. Questions of complementary programs that support a broad notion of wellness were also considered. For many Indigenous peoples, urbanism is almost antithetical to cultural wellbeing, presenting a fundamental conundrum to architecture’s agency in this context.

The studio began with collective research, leading to the development of nine design projects produced by teams and individuals. The studio traveled to Yellowknife in October 2016 to visit project sites and meet with stakeholders including Dene leaders, the Government of Northwest Territories Department of Health and Social Services, and the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research."

Site context:
The Kam Lake area has historically been zoned for industrial uses. The studio was asked to consider an area at the northwest tip of the lake. The site is currently accessed by way of the parking lot adjacent to the multi-plex (A). The site is bordered by a gravel yard to the northeast, and a penitentiary to the southwest.

The Kam Lake Site is characterized by a rocky outcrop that emerges just beyond the multi-plex parking lot. The area is covered by trees and vegetation. The rocky outcrop descends gradually towards the shoreline ending in a marsh.

Copyright Genevieve DF Simms 2018