“Together, we rise.” A community can remain cohesive through efficient design strategies that keep the collective in mind. Active listening is more important than talking. Open communication with the client is essential to adopting this methodology. Stantec designs blend functionality and aesthetics that redefine engineering possibilities while delivering results through effective project management. Caring about the communities they serve allows them to assess their necessities and connect their expertise, appreciate nuances and envision what has never been considered, and bring together diverse perspectives to collaborate towards a shared success story. Their goal is to shape better communities through architecture. Communities are better and stronger when they are together.
Elizabeth Quintal School
Environments that allow students to thrive and learn freely can transform education as we know it. Stantec designed two new schools at Peerless Lake and Trout Lake, keeping the needs of the residents and students in mind, thus creating a wholesome design for the entire community. Heading into this project in early 2016, Stantec had already designed Peerless Trout First Nation’s administration building. However, this time, they wanted to understand the lake communities truly.
Peerless Lake and Trout Lake are two remote sister communities in northern Alberta that are Peerless Trout First Nation. Both schools were built in the early 1980s and needed to be redeveloped. This generated the opportunity to create a place for more than just education but for cultural learning and community gatherings.
Understanding the community is vital when it comes to design. To facilitate efficient design techniques, the Stantec team had in-depth conversations with the local residents to understand the issues at the ground level. This would enable them to help the lake communities better.
The salient feature of the design was the input from the students. First, the team hosted engagement activities for students to propose their ideas. Then, using toothpicks and marshmallows, they learned and built different structures, which gave the team a fair idea about what they wanted in their new school design. The requests ranged from more windows and staircases to hot tubs and trampoline parks.
The team worked closely with the Chief and Council, Elders, and the larger community to learn about their educational history and experiences. The members explained how the design they encountered consisted of long, closed hallways with classrooms on either side, creating an extraordinarily dark and institutional vibe. They did not wish to see this design replicated in any way. A standard school design did not fit the community. They wanted to give the locals a school designed by them based on their needs as a whole entity. A school that they could talk about with pride.
The team suggestions did not dismiss the ideas suggested by the students but applied them to the design. Every morning, when the students come to school, they walk past a teepee. This feature is reminiscent of their past. Inside the teepee are a large map of the local area and lakes integrated into the floor to allow them to find where they live on the community map.
The suggestions put forth by the elders were considered. To eliminate the idea of double-loaded corridors, the team designed the school as an open, single-loaded hallway that bent into an arc to allow plenty of natural light in all corners.
The team also realised that students needed to be prepared for life outside of their community in terms of post-secondary institutions. While that may seem routine, Peerless and Trout Lake have no multi-story buildings. The team created a second floor when students mentioned they would like stairs. This also serves as a metaphor for merging the gap between their community and opportunities beyond the confines of their home.
A birch canoe entrance was designed to celebrate the community’s history of fishing and hunting. It also serves as a symbol of shelter. In addition, a garden area outside the premises could serve as a space for community events such as graduation ceremonies.
The presence of outdoor spaces is paramount. These open spaces are used for teaching and include landscaped natural play structures. Flexible spaces, curved hallways, and windows were used inside. To address the library issue, the team placed it next to the reception desk, allowing it to be open at all times. This also allowed the receptionist to work as the librarian simultaneously.
Apart from academics, the design accommodated spaces for the community to host events such as weddings. This would allow the building to be used beyond the fixed hours of school.
As a result of listening and engaging with the community throughout the design process, the school saw a drastic change in class attendance. Previously at a measly 33%, it went up to 90% at the end of the year despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The change created in the learning environment can change the quality of the future of budding students.
Bretz, H. (2021) First Nations School Design Case Study: Listen, Learn, then design, Stantec. Available at: https://www.stantec.com/en/ideas/service/architecture-interior-design/first-nations-school-design-case-study-listen-learn-then-design (Accessed: January 29, 2023).
Company Overview – Stantec. Available at: https://www.stantec.com/en/about (Accessed: January 29, 2023).