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Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre, Okanagan Valley, Canada

Friday 24 Oct 2008

Giving back to the landscape

Photographs: Nic Lehoux 
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Creating a new landmark in sustainability 

The Nk’Mip Desert Culture Centre is located in the most endangered landscape in Canada. Its design is a specific and sustainable response to the building’s unique context - the spectacular Canadian desert found south of the Okanagan Valley in Osoyoos, British Columbia. This 1,600-acre parcel of land, belonging to the Osoyoos Indian Band is the largest intact remnant of this unique habitat in Canada.

The building’s siting and orientation are the initial strategic undertakings toward sustainability; the partially buried structure mitigates the extremes in temperature and its orientation optimizes passive solar performance, with glazing minimized on the south and west sides.

North America’s largest rammed-earth wall gives the building exterior a unique material and poetic sensibility. At 80m long, 5.5m high, and 600mm thick, this insulated wall (R33) stabilizes temperature variations. Its graduated layers of earth evoke geological sedimentation within a distinctly contemporary architectural language.

Blue-stain pine is used throughout the project. A habitable green roof reduces the building’s visual imprint on the landscape, and allows a greater percentage of the desert landscape habitat to be re-established on the site (replanting uses indigenous species). In-slab radiant cooling and heating in both ceiling and floor slabs create an even, comfortable environment that avoids blasts of air, noise and dust.

The Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre is the first of a number of new British Columbian aboriginal centres, and part of a growing trend to explore the expressive potential of architecture to convey the rich past and the transforming future of aboriginal culture.

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Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden Architects

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