New ARchitecture on Indigenous Lands
By Joy Monice Malnar and Frank Vodvarka

In this recent examination of First Nations architectural projects, authors Joy Monice Malnar and Frank Vodvarka predict a new architecture is on the rise – with implications that stretch far beyond reserve boundaries. They cite the design sensitivities implicit in First Peoples’ world views, but also the field’s ability to bypass “homogenized conventions of mainstream white society.” This design approach – a blend of the cultural, sensory and symbolic – offers a depth and insightfulness absent from current practice.

The true value of this book lies in its extensive testimonies regarding best practices. Those who have worked in the field understand the myriad of non-standard procedures related to design, consultation and approval. The expanded notion of design, encompassing spatial, social, spiritual and experiential factors, is one challenge. Others include the collective design process, qualitative data, community engagement and consensus-building. The authors have done their research, balancing it with the necessary historical, legal and economic framework.

The authors cite an additional important challenge: infiltrating the design assumptions of Western-trained architects. This is critical for a number of reasons. Canada’s Aboriginal population is growing at nearly four times the non-Aboriginal rate. Reserve-based projects are also becoming increasingly visible. Many now border, or exist within expanding cities. Finally, there is a cultural rebirth occurring as First Nations, once outlawed for engaging in the spiritual, linguistic and cultural expressions of their ancestors, are fervently trying to put the pieces back together. Architecture – as a depository of cultural meaning and a community-based teaching tool – will play a prominent role in this revival.—Wanda Dalla Costa, Director of Redquill Architecture,
Canadian Architect