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Indigenous architects prepare to bring their work to the world stage

A team of Indigenous architects from across the country is getting ready to represent Canada in a prestigious international architecture competition, the Venice Architecture Biennale.

Unceded: Voices of the Land will run in Venice from May to November

David Fortin is the director of the McEwen School of Architecture at Laurentian University. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

A team of Indigenous architects from across the country is getting ready to represent Canada in a prestigious international architecture competition. 

Led by renowned architect Douglas Cardinal, the exhibit called Unceded: Voices of the Land will showcase Indigenous architecture at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale from May to November.

David Fortin, the newly-named director of the McEwen School of Architecture at Laurentian University, is curating the project along with Gerald McMaster from OCAD University.

"We're going to show Europe and the global architectural world that the Indigenous voice is strong in architecture," said Fortin, who's Métis and is the first Indigenous director of a Canadian architecture school.

The team of 18 architects representing different nations and regions in Canada, including four from the U.S., will showcase their designs in Venice through a multimedia presentation that will be rich with culture and history, according to Fortin.

Fortin is co-curating a team of Indigenous architects to present at the upcoming Venice Architecture Biennale, a prestigious international architecture competition. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

"I think there's an emergence that's happening here. I think that part of the message that we're trying to tell is that Indigenous people have a value system based on a relationship to earth, in terms of being balance with Mother Earth," he said. 

"A lot of the problems we're dealing with now politically and environmentally could benefit from a perspective about how you build, how you design, and what's the spirit behind that design process. That's really what we're talking about."

'The real exhibit is about a way of thinking'

Fortin said the idea to put a team together and present in Venice began a few years ago when the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada formed an Indigenous task force that identified an underrepresentation of Indigenous architects registered in Canada.

"That was the first time that we realized when we came together that there were approximately 18 registered architects in the country who were Indigenous, and there are 10,000 registered architects in Canada," he said.

The team began discussing the Venice idea with Cardinal, whose enthusiasm helped build momentum to develop the project. It will be the first time Indigenous architects present their own work at the Biennale, according to Fortin.

"The primary focus is to celebrate the work of these Indigenous architects, but we're also acknowledging the struggles of many of these architects and their families to get to the point where they're at in terms of designing buildings and working in this profession," said Fortin.

They also plan to include other Indigenous artists and performers, community members, and elders in their program at Venice. 

"The buildings are going to be there to show that the work that the architects have done, but the real exhibit is about a way of thinking, a way of being that is about the way we are raised and the way that we're tied in to our communities, and how does that push a conversation about architecture," he said.

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