6th Holcim Awards 2020/21

119 central. The North, and its peoples, makes you humble – and it is an inspiring environment for architecture. Lola Sheppard (LS): Architecture was used as a colonialist tool for a long time, something that was imposed on people by governments. For decades, architects simply replicated imported southern architectural models and solutions in the North. But we see that architecture can be used as a tool for cultural empowerment, by listening to people and giving form to their priorities and their understanding of places and programs. The architects chose a special approach for the design process of the AIWC: co-design. In workshops, they collaborated with their client, the AIWF, a nonprofit organization founded several years ago by a group of Indigenous elders. The foundation has brought together Indigenous peoples across northern Canada to form a symbolic, self-determined association in order to culturally revitalize traditional healing methods and practices in the region. It is dedicated to improving culturally based healthcare for Indigenous people in the NWT. Numerous statistics, including the suicide rate, prove the need for this. Indigenous Canadians are more likely than others to suffer from cancer, diabetes, addiction, or autoimmune diseases. Can you tell us about your co-design process? LS: Co-design is about breaking down the hierarchy between the architect, client, and user. Elders are knowledge holders and important to the development of this project. We co-designed the project using a series of programming and model-building workshops with the elders. A council of elders represents the total of seven Indigenous cultures of Canada to the AIWF, so the concerns of all the groups are represented. This council is not an official body or any sort of a political parliament. MW: Elders are not elected by the community. One becomes an elder by being a keeper of traditional knowledge, showing leadership qualities, and having experience. An example is Be’sha Blondin, who is a member of both the foundation and the council of elders. She possesses great knowledge of Indigenous traditional health and wellness, medicinal plants, and other natural healing practices. Her contributions to the program and organization of the building are tangible. Was there a sort of culture shock because the way locals approach a project might be significantly different than what you’re used to? MW: At the start, we had to develop appropriate tools for the workshops. We didn’t want any technical barriers to get in the way of anyone contributing. For the model-building workshop, we made a box full of wooden shapes and provided paints and brushes. Using these, we began designing different schemes together in an intuitive and collaborative way. We painted the terrain and organized the wood shapes on it to relate “A labor of love for everyone involved” Mason White “The North is an inspiring environment for architecture” Mason White