The important cultural heritage values of West Coast First Nations include their respect of and attachment to nature, as well as their affinity to wood and its multiple applications in their daily lives. The important design ambition for this project was to embody these values in the creation of new accommodation for the Tseshaht First Nation, in which to operate their multi-faceted businesses and community, health, cultural and social functions.
The natural yet challenging character of the site, a large granite bluff above the salmon-spawning Somass River, offered a unique opportunity for a nature-preserving solution. Instead of disturbing the site with rock blasting, leveling and massive excavations, the building program evolved naturally, following the contours and outlines of the rocky bluff as an elevated wood structure that appears to be floating and is at times cantilevered above the river's edge.
To maintain the symbiotic relationship between the internal spaces and the natural exterior, and to appreciate natural light, the sun's rays are welcomed to penetrate the building on their daily path, evoking positive ambiance within the high-volume areas as well as the small individual offices. Nature, in this way, can virtually be appreciated as much inside as outside.
Located at the north tip of Alberni Inlet off the West Coast of Vancouver Island, the site is subjected to tidal fluctuations of up to 15 feet and is within the highest seismic risk zone. The structure is a combination of open-framed post-and-beam infilled with glazing and a strategically placed limited amount of sheer walls, utilizing a multitude of engineered wood products and a variety of natural lumber products harvested and milled by Tseshaht from their own forest reserves.
This near to "millwork" design concept that exposes every element of the structure as an architectural feature and vocabulary required precision pre-manufacturing of each element, which was done on site before its assembly and erection and was carried out very successfully by predominantly Tseshaht labour. It also presented a great challenge to conceal all mechanical and electrical distribution networks and locate voluminous equipment without ill effect on the integrity of the architecture and the structure.
The functionality and the transfer of cultural values of significance into the design solutions were accomplished through a series of design charrettes with great participation of Chief and Council, community members, elders and the future users of the building.