First Nation Cultural School Translates Traditional into Contemporary; Earns Adoration of Students

Attendance surges as students embrace culture and identify with surrounding geological context

The spectacular site for this First Nations community school is located on a bench overlooking the city of Penticton BC. The school’s lobby is oriented to frame a breathtaking view south toward Skaha Lake. The classrooms, library, and cultural education room have an un-obstructed view over the City and Lake Okanagan.

The building’s form language is derived from the surrounding geological context. The interior mountains that frame the Okanagan valley have softer lines and curves than the neighbouring Rocky Mountains. The cultural education room is an artistic interpretation of the subterranean house traditionally used by the Okanagan people.

The forms are meant to drape into the space and then soar upwards where a skylight is positioned with its frame out of view to convey the impression of an open structure. Alternating bands of painted drywall surfaces and light wood slats, roll down from the ceiling to become seating around the edges of the space. These slats provide acoustical benefits in addition to hiding the mechanical air diffusers. Simple glass light fixtures are delicately suspended on co-axial cables from the oculus above and then tied back with lines to the draping bulkheads.

The interior spaces reflect the evolution of tectonic displacement. The entrance to the library appears to have opened up within the crevasse of two shifting geological forms. This pattern reinforces the notion that this building has grown from the landscape over thousands of years and settled into what is seen today. Benches, display cases and classroom entrances have been carved out of these forms suggesting that the building was only inhabited after the structure’s masses had finally settled.

The classrooms are identified by a traditional First Nation hieroglyphic formation, which begins on the floor in the corridor and runs up the wall and over the doors.

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