Recently, the Kenaitze Indian Tribe celebrated the opening of the Kahtnuht’ana Duhdeldiht Campus, an education center in Kenai, Alaska. The center is a combination of the community’s core educational components and programs with a central facility that focuses on building a tribally owned and culturally appropriate education campus.
About the Developer
Stantec which is one of the leading global infrastructure design and delivery companies was the developer, design architect, architect of record, structural engineer as well as the MEP engineer. Stantec has been designing campus environments for more than 62 years and has more than 450 clients within the education sector. In this similar sector, special focus areas of the company include student housing, science and technology facilities, academic facilities, libraries, campus planning among others.
The Kenai People
The Kenaitze Indian Tribe which was federally recognised as a sovereign, independent nation in 1971 under the Indian Reorganisation Act as amended for Alaska has more than 1,800 members who live across the Kenai Peninsula and beyond and the tribe itself employs about 350 full-time and part-time employees. Seeing that aspects like sharing language, culture, and traditional knowledge is important for the tribe, the 65,000 square foot educational center is one of the ways to do that by enabling forward the tribe’s vision. With this, Stantec worked hand in hand with the tribal leaders as well as the elements presented by the environment and site where the center was going to be put and the Kenaitze people with their cultural values to come up with a state of the art facility that is both tribally owned but also serves as a culturally appropriate campus.
Building Form and Its relation to the Users
Given the fact the Kenaitze Indian tribe is a community of people, a circular form was placed in the center of the facility to connect two other wings. The curved central form is a representation of the sense of community shared by these people and so it houses the plaza which is that space that mostly brings together everyone. While connecting the two wings, the plaza also serves as a main entrance lobby. The two wings contain an educational wing which accommodates a preschool, library, Yaghan youth language and culture programs for students, a career training center and the language institute. The other wing accommodates spaces for the tribal activities some of which are the multipurpose room with a track and cultural room.
Culture, Tradition and Materiality
The Kenaitze tribe is one with long standing fishing traditions. Seeing as this is important, as part of the interior design a 16-foot diameter tribal seal was embedded in the lobby floor. A 20-foot diameter rendering of the tribe’s traditional values wheel was also embedded in the multipurpose room floor. As a way to equally represent the tribe’s fishing culture, the exterior of the curved central form was finished with custom copper color aluminum panel patterns that stimulate salmon skin, a resource Central to the tribe and its fishing identity. On the same note, reclaimed wood from the community’s historic cannery was repurposed and used which saw less material waste but also was a representation of the tribe’s long-standing fishing traditions.
Materials and Sustainability
After Stantec completed an environmental assessment of the site, it worked closely with Nancy Casey, a Kenai-based landscape architect while it also closely collaborated with Stantec’s interior designer Carel Nagata and civil engineer Jake Alward to tie exterior elements to the interiors.
Firstly, Stantec paid particular attention to selecting a balanced combination of accents, natural finishes and textures. This can be seen by the emphasis placed on the palette of natural materials throughout the light filled space as well the facility in general.
The exterior of the building’s entry was clad with copper-coloured aluminium panels which were customized and so their surface could be adjusted to appear like salmon skin and they could also be installed in a pinwheel pattern.
Before building the entry plaza and library façade, the design team had to begin by identifying meaningful elements of the design where wood could be applied. They in turn worked with the Kenaitze tribe to inventory how much wood could be salvaged from the 100-year-old fish cannery in order to be able to tailor the design and detail of the structure to incorporate wood based on the product available during the process of design. This led to less material wastage but also helped the design create a robust thermal envelope for Kenai’s climate which sees chilly summers and long, very cold winter months.
Context and Location
The facility is located at the intersection of South Forest Drive and the Kenai Spur Highway, just across the street from the National Guard armory. The education center is near the City of Kenai land and a municipal park, and is an easy walk from the Kenai beach.
As a way to keep this a part of the design, the landscape features were an integral part of the design where concrete plaza scorings mimic the Kenai river and the vegetation planted outdoors visually connects the library and the multipurpose hall to the outside.
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alaskabusiness (2022). Kenaitze Indian Tribe Opens Education Campus. [online] Alaska Business Magazine. Available at: https://www.akbizmag.com/industry/architecture/kenaitze-indian-tribe-opens-education-campus/ [Accessed 1 Nov. 2022].
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KDLL Public Radio for the Central Kenai Peninsula. (2022). Kenaitze Indian Tribe opens doors to educational campus. [online] Available at: https://www.kdll.org/local-news/2022-09-02/kenaitze-indian-tribe-opens-doors-to-educational-campus [Accessed 1 Nov. 2022].
Building Design + Construction. (2022). Indian tribe’s new educational campus supports culturally appropriate education. [online] Available at: https://www.bdcnetwork.com/indian-tribes-new-educational-campus-supports-culturally-appropriate-education [Accessed 1 Nov. 2022].
localhost. (n.d.). Kenaitze Indian Tribe opens new Stantec-designed educational campus. [online] Available at: https://www.stantec.com/en/news/2022/kenaitze-indian-tribe-opens-new-stantec-designed-educational-campus [Accessed 1 Nov. 2022].