Canadian Architect


Children’s First Centre

December 1, 2012
by Canadian Architect

ARCHITECT Kobayashi + Zedda Architects
LOCATION Inuvik, Northwest Territories

In Inuvik, Northwest Territories, the Children’s First Centre will be the only purpose-built building for early childhood care in the community. Once it is completed in the spring of 2013, it will provide a safe, secure and nurturing environment that will act as an anchor and hallmark of education, play and community in Inuvik.

Inuvik’s strength as a community, its remote location, and the extreme environment all helped shape the design of the building. The plan is oriented north-south to provide protection and shelter from prevailing north winds that are frequent in the Inuvik area. The plan of the building gently arcs around a central playground area that faces south to maximize solar exposure and to provide shelter against the cold northwest winds. The building design also maximizes solar orientation, bringing natural light deep into the building core in the winter. Classroom and group-use spaces straddle the south-facing arc, while a covered walkway connects the active use areas to the sheltered outdoor play area.

There has been a longstanding waiting list for access to early child care in Inuvik. Employers in the community have reported that the lack of proper child care is the number one reason why employees miss work or quit their jobs. Provision of quality child care ensures parents and guardians are able to return to the workforce or attend further training and education.

Inuvik is located at 68 degrees north, 2 degrees above the Arctic Circle and 100 kilometres south of the Arctic Ocean. It is a traditional meeting place of the Inuvialuit (Inuit) and Gwich’in (First Nations) people. Located on the banks of the Mackenzie River, it delineates the end of Canada’s boreal forest and the beginning of the arctic tundra. Temperatures range from -56 to +31 degrees Celsius. There are 37 consecutive days in the winter where Inuvik residents do not see the sun rise above the horizon, and 56 days in the summer when it does not leave.

Due to the remote location of the project, where trees are scarce and too small to use for construction, most building materials are shipped from the south. Furthermore, the town of Inuvik is located in a region of continuous permafrost, a condition that requires a specialized adfreeze steel-pile foundation system. Consequently, the project team, using northern ingenuity, was able to source 2,000 lineal metres of steel drill pipe abandoned by the oil and gas industry in the 1980s, and used the material for the extensive adfreeze steel-pile foundation system. 

The foundation also includes an exposed exterior cavity below the building, which is naturally ventilated to ensure that the building does not inadvertently transfer heat to the ground below, causing melting and shifting of the foundation. Due to the vented cavity and interior crawlspace requirements, as is typical in many buildings in Inuvik, the main floor will be situated approximately eight feet above the existing grade. Extensive earthworks and grading were required to gracefully transition barrier-free access to the raised building. Cladding will consist of a pine wood soffit, steel grate, corrugated metal siding, and composite resin laminate panels that will be inspired by the colours of the northern landscape.

DC: This project stands tall in addressing these conditions in a vocabulary that is dignified and poised–while being self-aware as to its construction type and construction culture. The compact, low-lying and efficient volume finds a way to delightfully ration out the scarce daylight while ensuring shared sightlines around the courtyard, further entrenching the communal quality sought after. It is fitting that the reuse of abandoned steel pipe for raised thermally respectful foundation systems would be the underpinning–in more ways than one–of a project which honestly and delightfully suggests an indigenous “why wouldn’t we do this” attitude vs. a “we should be doing this” attitude.

MCC: This particular project impressed me for its exhaustive research on the local context and population as well as for the coherence of the solution. The strength of the gesture is a response to the extreme climate but also conveys a sense of gentle embrace for the children. Given the difficulties of construction in this Northern context, I appreciate the technical solutions and the appropriate choice of materials. But the most enjoyable elements are the ultimate simplicity of the Children’s First Centre and the intelligence of the sustainable solutions proposed.

BH: This project displayed an economy of means and materials, an important respect for climate, and a sense of play. It will be a bright spot in an often (literally) dark landscape.

Client Children First Society
Architect Team Antonio Zedda, Ryan McLennan, Justine Copestake, Alan McDiarmid, Philippe Grégoire
Structural Ennova Structural Engineers Inc.
Mechanical Thorn Engineering
Electrical Associated Engineering
Landscape Kobayashi + Zedda Architects
Contractor Cofly Construction Ltd.
Area 1,216 m2
Budget $5 M
Completion June 2013

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.
All posts by

Print this page

Related Posts

Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *