Canadian Architect

Feature

A Fuel Deal

A Vancouver architecture firm takes on the commission of a simple gas station with the intent of boosting local pride and economic development for the Wet'suwet'en Nation.

March 1, 2007
by Canadian Architect

PROJECT Moricetown Gas Bar and Retail Store, Moricetown, BC

ARCHITECTS KMBR Architects Planners Inc.

TEXT Ian Chodikoff

PHOTOS WItmar Abele

Located within the Wet’suwet’en Nation of Northern British Columbia lies the village of Moricetown (pop. 700). The governance and social structure of the Wet’suwet’en Nation is based on the traditional hereditary system where families belong to five family groups or clans which comprise Laksilyu (small frog), Gilseyhu (frog), Tsayu (beaver), Gitdumden (bear), and Laksamishu (fireweed). Each clan consists of members determined by matrilineal decent. Located roughly 40 kilometres west of Smithers along the Yellowhead Highway in north-central British Columbia and surrounded by the Babine Range to the east and the Hazelton Mountains to the west, Moricetown was once one of the largest communities in the Bulkley Valley and it is one of the oldest villages in the province. The village is sited adjacent to the Moricetown Canyon, on the Bulkley River where local residents continue to fish salmon from its river, as they have done for 10,000 years.

Moricetown’s local economy is largely dependent on the production of forest products. As the major economic driver for the village, the Wet’suwet’en own 51 percent of a value-added remanufacturing wood product mill–the Kyahwood Forest Products Joint Venture (Northwood Pulp & Timber own the other 49 percent). The nearby Kyahwood plant, employing much of the First Nations community, makes such specialty products as finger-jointed studs for the Japanese market as well as various value-added wood products from trim ends. Since the Wet’suwet’en own two-thirds of the forest supply for Northwood’s timber supply, the joint venture with a large wood remanufacturing company was a win-win situation for the community, bringing in considerable income and providing employment.

Thus, it only seemed right that when a new gas station and restaurant was needed for the community, it would emphasize the use of wood in its design. The modern highway gas station, washrooms and rest stop is not something that is normally appreciated for its cultural significance. However, when the Moricetown First Nations Band approached KMBR architects in 2003 to design a gas station and bistro, the architects’ immediate response was to engender a greater sense of regional significance rather than to respond to the design brief with the usual sterile aesthetic of a large multinational energy corporation.

KMBR’s history with the Band dates back to 1984 when they designed a small school for the community. However, their first major project was completed in 2001–the 30,000-square-foot Moricetown Community School, Community Centre and Administration Offices–as well as the offices of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. This project, often referred to as a “multiplex” by the architects as well as the community, allows all the members of the village to share a variety of public spaces such as the Great Hall, gymnasium, meeting rooms, library and resource centre.

For Moricetown’s new gas bar, the structure is very straightforward. Clad in finished cedar board and comprised of glulam beams and columns, the primary structural system is meant to imply a First Nations post-and-beam architecture. With the exception of the glulam members, most of the wood used in the project was locally produced and harvested. The plywood of the roof sheathing is visible underneath. The plan is simple and logical.

A significant component of the project reflects the architects’ attempt at promoting a sense of social justice along with local pride. To ensure greater economy and ease of maintenance, many of the materials are self-finishing. The use of exposed wood and concrete countertops throughout the interior helps reduce the use of expensive materials. Rainwater is collected inside a concrete cistern. These measures represent modest but significant means of ensuring that at least a few good sustainable practices are employed in the project. Inside the caf, large expanses of glazing allow patrons to view the mountains beyond while creating an atmosphere of community connected to the surrounding geography. Being sensitive to employment opportunities for the village, the design and detailing of the various building components was completed mostly with Band labour–and in less than five months. With winter arriving early in Moricetown, the project also had to be completed on a very short timeline. To help speed up the construction process, galvanized steel-plate knife-blade connections were used to help express a simple, yet archetypally BC-tectonic approach to small-scale timber architecture.

Having won both a Canada Wood Council award as well as a Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia Certificate of Innovation in 2006, the gas bar in Moricetown has succeeded in being recognized for its architectural merits. However, it is the project’s ability to invigorate a small First Nations community while providing it with an additional source of income and employment that is perhaps its most noteworthy accomplishment.

CLIENT MORICETOWN FIRST NATIONS BAND, (WET’SUWET’EN NATION)

ARCHITECT TEAM TOM BOWEN, WITMAR ABELE, PETER MATHER, LYNNE VARHOL, WADE WATSON, HAMISH SHAW

STRUCTURAL FAST & EPP PARTNERS

MECHANICAL VERSACON CONSULTANTS INC.

ELECTRICAL PACIFIC RIM CONSULTANTS

CIVIL KINGSTON + ASSOCIATES CONSULTING ENGINEERS LTD.

CONTRACTOR GUS POIRIER CONSTRUCTION

FOOD CONSULTANTS DESIGNED FOOD FACILITIES

AREA 438 m2

BUDGET $550,000 (EXCLUDING SITE WORK)

COMPLETION MAY 2005




Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect is a magazine for architects and related professionals practicing in Canada. Canada's only monthly design publication, Canadian Architect has been in continuous publication since 1955.
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