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Educational Architecture that Inspires

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Wii Gyemsiga Siwilaawksat Student Housing is a beautiful example of educational architecture that inspires.

“It felt culturally appropriate for this sacred material to be chosen for this project to create a space that is safe and welcoming.” – Karen Marler, Principal of hcma

Location: Terrace, British Columbia
Architect: hcma
Photography: Brit Kwasney

Sitting on the traditional territory of the Tsimshian Kitsumkalum people, Wii Gyemsiga Siwilaawksat is a new student housing building located on the Coast Mountain College (CMTN) campus in the mountainous northwest region of Terrace, BC.

The goal here was to replace aging facilities with culturally supportive and safe living quarters to empower Indigenous students. As such, the design process was guided by local Indigenous leaders to ensure the building was informed by their peoples’ stories, knowledge, customs and way of life.

Design for and by Indigenous People

To articulate this rich history and culture, the Indigenous-led design team turned to the building material of their ancestors.

“The overall design was inspired by sacred cedar,” explains Indigenous architect Aiden Callison, Director of Community + Indigenous Projects at hcma. That’s the Vancouver-based interdisciplinary design firm brought on to collaborate on this special project.

“The cedar tree is a symbol of the northwest coast,” continues Callison. “Used for shelter, clothing, transportation, ceremony, and spiritual beliefs, cedar has been integral to local First Nations’ culture for thousands of years.”

Building Material Rich in History

The result is a beautifully detailed, high-performance cedar-clad building that includes 108 beds, 6 shared kitchens, dining areas, project rooms, maker space, cultural room, computer lab, E-sports room and bicycle storage.

The heart of the building has to be the cedar-paneled central lobby, a celebration space which mimics a hollow cedar tree. Above, a primary wood pin-wheel structure

symbolizes the branches of a cedar tree with shafts of sunlight shining through. As well, cedar was used as a cultural expression through numerous Indigenous art installations.

Spaces that Inspire Learning

Named by the local First Nations community, Wii Gyemsiga Siwilaawksat is a Sm’algyax phrase that means “Where learners are content or comfortable.” And for CMTN First Nations students like Kobe Antoine, that’s exactly what this warm inspired space means to him.

“It makes me want to put in more effort into my work because I finally have the right workspace to think clearly,” says Antoine. “It makes me feel acknowledged as a student and I just really want to keep learning here.”

WRC Specifications
Grade: KD Select Knotty, rough sawn and smooth face
Size: 1×6 T&G
Fastening: Blind nailed
Applied Finish: Sansin SDF