Saskatoon, SK

Wanuskewin Heritage Park

Project Details

Value:

$4 Million (1992 Original Building) / $15 Million (2020 Renewal)

Completion:

Original 1992 / Renewal 2020

Size:

59,909 sq. ft.

Services:

Prime Consulting, Architecture, Interior Design, Construction Contract Administration

Nestled on the western ridge of the Opimihaw Creek Valley on a historic buffalo jump, Wanuskewin Heritage Park transcends the lines between buildings and the land to fulfill the vision of the founding Elders to tell the story of the Plains First Nation people. The location, massing, orientation and finishes of the building are all reflective of this guiding principle, and the results combine these important historic elements with modern design elements.

The initial project, completed in 1992, housed an indoor lecture theatre, exhibit hall, gathering space for ceremonial dances and demonstrations, a restaurant and a series of meeting rooms. Its building form was to represent the head and body of the buffalo, which was a both a source of food and a sacred animal for the Plains First Nation people. The exterior was clad in a cedar product designed to weather through the years.

In 2013 aodbt was re-engaged to assist in the next chapter of development at Wanuskewin. Through a strategic planning exercise, it was identified that additional space for modernized exhibits, education space, and an enhanced gathering space were required elements to help the park meet the increasing demand on its facilities. It was also identified through these consultations that a burgeoning First Nations arts community was using Wanuskewin as a location to display works, and a dedicated gallery space was to be developed.

In consultation with Elders, staff, and stakeholders, the aodbt team placed these elements in a manner that was sympathetic to the original design, the land and provided functionality for staff. In keeping with the original design intent, the new black box gallery space was given the form of a baby bison staying close to her mother. The building was reclad in the same cedar product used in the original design to remain sympathetic to the northern plains style. The enlarged meeting room/banquet facility took design cues from Ceremonial Arbours that are in the majority of the First Nations communities across the Central Plains. Entries were provided into this space that are aligned with ceremonial entry points, from the south and the east. The view lines from this space will provide unmatched vistas of both the Opimihaw Creek and South Saskatchewan River valleys. New glazing designed to reduce bird strikes was installed in both the new areas and replaced the existing sealed units.

The most breathtaking and sacred space within the building was designed in close consultation with the Elders who volunteered many hours providing their leadership, spiritual teachings, insight, and guidance throughout the project. Overlooking a small crest in the valley, the Elders’ space provides a small area that allows a quiet space for reflection, the ability to share meals, and to provide teachings and storytelling. This reflective space is clad in warm wood materials and has a central hearth to provide a comforting space for users.

Community engagement on the project was extensive, continuous, and crucial to the success of the project. At the outset, approximately 80 stakeholders were brought into three project visioning sessions. These sessions, which were all kicked off by a ceremony led by Elders, aligned the project goals and began to prioritize the requirements in the building. From these sessions, two smaller stakeholder groups, Elders and Wanuskewin staff, were developed to provide core guidance.

Photo Credit:

King Rose Visuals, Structure Photography


Awards and Publications

  • National Geographic (2022)
  • Recipient of Premier’s (1996)
  • Recipient of Western Red Cedar Lumber Association/American Institute of Architects Award (1992)
  • Premier’s Awards of Excellence in Design – Integrated Design, Award of Excellence in Design (2021)
  • Lieutenant Governor Heritage Architecture Excellence Award (2015)

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