Rooted in history

James
Tuesday 23 Feb 2010

Iredale Group's new school design celebrates and emphasises the art, history & language of the Okanagan people

This First Nations school sits on a plateau overlooking the City of Penticton in British Columbia, with breathtaking views across Skaha Lake and Lake Okanagan. The main approach directs your view out over the city and down the lakes and presents the school against the backdrop of Canada’s only desert landscape.

The client’s design brief required that the building grow from the landscape and reflect the traditions of the Okanagan People. The colour palette and soft curvaceous forms mimic the textures and patterns of the rolling hillsides that flank the valley. The forms flow in and over each other, most evident on the west façade where the roofs roll over and seamlessly transition into walls. These forms have been peeled back at entrances, revealing the interior spaces while providing much needed shade. The organic form language continues through to interior spaces where rooms appear to open up within the crevasse of shifting geological forms, suggesting the evolution of tectonic displacement. Benches, display cases, and classroom entrances will be carved out of these forms as though the building was only inhabited long after the structure’s masses had finally settled.

This language culminates in the dramatic education room being dedicated to teaching the Okanagan People’s language, history and art. With interactive sound and video media, the interior space is an artistic interpretation of the traditional pit house, conducive to passing down native skills. It is made up of alternating ribbons of plaster and wood slats that rise toward the oculus and terminate just above the aluminum frame of the domed skylight. The forms are meant to drape into the space and then soar upward, guiding one’s eye to the sky. The four food 'Chiefs' - bitter root, Saskatoon berry, king salmon, and black bear - are carved into four pillars around the perimeter and lit with recessed floor lighting. The space serves as a vivid reminder of the Band's roots while providing a dramatic vision of their evolution as a people.

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