Volume 13, Number 12 February 24, 2006

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Aboriginal space to be cultural, academic hub

By Colleen MacPherson

This illustration shows the medicine wheel concept overlaying Wiggins Court, the site of the new Aboriginal student space.  The wheel connects the space back to the original master plan axis.

This illustration shows the medicine wheel concept overlaying Wiggins Court, the site of the new Aboriginal student space.  The wheel connects the space back to the original master plan axis.

Illustration courtesy FMD

After considering 14 different locations, Wiggins Court between the Murray Building and Arts has been identified as the location of the Aboriginal Student Space project, a site that will give this hub of support for Aboriginal students a deep-rooted connection to the U of S campus.

The Board of Governors gave preliminary approval to the location, design, program and schedule for the $5.5 million project at its meeting Feb. 9, advancing an initiative that began in 1998 with a $1 million donation from NOVA Chemicals. Comprised on three components – Aboriginal student space coordinated through the Indigenous Students’ Council that includes a lounge, computer lab, resource room and office; the Student and Enrolment Services Division (SESD) Aboriginal Students’ Centre; and the Department of Native Studies – the project helps address the University’s commitment to meeting the needs of Aboriginal students and communities.

Chris Bergen
Chris Bergen

Facilities Management Division (FMD) Planner Chris Bergen said the next step will be to hire external consultants who will develop the project from the conceptual stage of tender-ready documents.  Those consultants will build on a great deal of work already done on the project, including extensive consultation with Aboriginal students, Elders and representatives of the wider Aboriginal community off campus. 

Feedback has been positive, said Bergen, and elders and students will continue to be involved to ensure the cultural appropriateness of the building.  “That’s where students and Elders will have huge input, in what the building looks like, what the interior spaces look like, even the surface finishes.”  The University is also reviewing similar projects already underway at the Universities of Victoria and Manitoba.

The building is expected to include about 1140 gross sq. m divided between the three components, but Bergen said future growth has been factored into the space requirements.  And while the actual design of the building is yet to be determined, the project’s steering committee has already approved a site concept that recognizes Plains Indian spiritual and cultural values.

In trying to figure out “how to introduce something Aboriginal to the core area of campus that’s dominated by Collegiate Gothic architecture”, Bergen went all the way back to the original Brown and Vallance Master Plan to find the answer.  “There has to be a reason for the building to be where it is, and to tie it back to campus, tie the two cultures together.”

What he found in the 1909 plan was a central axis running from the College Building across the Bowl to Devil’s Dip on the riverbank.  Then Bergen explored medicine wheels, in particular a style with a central stone cairn, radiating spokes and auxiliary tipi wings.  By overlaying the site with the wheel and aligning it according to the summer solstice, he discovered that the solstice line intersects the original master plan axis at Devil’s Dip.  For Bergen, the circle was now complete.

“Now everything is linked back to the original master plan and the main axis of campus. And along the solstice axis, students are represented in the east, the rising sun, new beginnings, with Elders in the west representing the setting sun or an end.  This sets up a whole way of thinking about introducing this cycle into the building itself, with the solstice axis running right through the student lounge and the Elder space.”

The timeline for the project is long, with commissioning and moving in tentatively slated for the summer of 2008, but for those who have been waiting for this project to come to fruition, “the next little while is going to be very exciting”.


For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca


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