Indigenous influence on Olympic Designs

We are in the midst of the 2010 winter Olympics in my former hometown of Vancouver, Canada. So while watching the games from halfway round the world I thought I’d look at some of the buildings that were built in association with this world event.The first is the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler Village.  It is a landmark in Olympic history that indigenous peoples are partners in hosting the Olympic Games. The Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, known collectively as the Four Host First Nations (FHFN), have lived in the Vancouver and Whistler area for thousands of years.

The construction of a new cultural centre is one of the most visible and permanent legacies of First Nation Olympic involvement.  Designed by Alfred Waugh Architect, an aboriginal himself, it reflects both a Squamish traditional Longhouse and a Lil’wat traditional Istken – earthen pithouse dwelling.

The centre opened in 2008 and for the first time in recent history the two First Nations worked together to build this three storey, 300 sq.m. $32 million complex that demonstrates their distinct cultures, heritage and languages of the past, present and future. A large cedar deck  surrounds an amazing building with floor to ceiling windows that reveal spectacular views of Whistler and Backcomb mountains. Fortunately you can be warm and dry inside while still being able to appreciate the beauty of  the scenery.

Boulders painted with colourful pictographs are placed along the walkways to the cedar entrance doors, which feature an image of a bear carved by well-known local Lil’wat Nation artisans.

Inside the centre giant Douglas fir beams anchor the seven-metre-high Great Hall where there are Aboriginal artifacts from the Squamish and Lil’wat people.

Above massive hand-carved replicas of spindle whorls (an essential tool in traditional weaving) revolve overhead.

In addition to the indigenous cultural influence the Centre was built to respect the landscape. The elders believe that each part of creation has a spirit of its own and teach that seven generations should be kept in mind in everything they do.

Since sustainability was very important to them, the design team kept within the LEED® certification. The building is tucked into the natural incline to minimize excavation and 64% of the land was preserved as a natural habitat. The centre reduced energy by using double-glazed, thermally-broken and low emissivity coated windows, non-incandescent lights and occupancy monitors in most rooms. Water conservation was maximized through the use of water-efficient fixtures such as dual flush toilets. And the roof of the Iskten Hall is a planted “Green Roof”.

Special thanks to Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre and  SABMag for photos and plans

More next week……

One thought on “Indigenous influence on Olympic Designs

  1. I got the extraordinary chance to live in Vancouver for 6 months when my husband was there on short assignment. We’ve been back to visit when the children were older and could appreciate the beauty and cosmopolitan living that is Vancouver.

    These buildings remind me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs that blend gracefully into the surrounding nature. Breathtaking!

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