May 1, 2007
by Canadian Architect
ARCHITECT Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden Architects + Urbanistes
LOCATION Osoyoos, British Columbia
The Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre is designed to be a site-specific and environmentally sustainable response to the building’s unique context–the unusual Canadian desert found south of the Okanagan Valley in Osoyoos, British Columbia. Sited adjacent to one of the last remaining sections of the Great Basin Desert (roughly 1,600 acres are being preserved by the band as a conservation area), this interpretive centre forms part of a larger 200-acre master plan in a region that includes a winery, golf club and resort hotel. The Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre is the first of a number of new aboriginal centres to be built in British Columbia.
The advent of this thoroughly poetic project (see CA, March 2007) forms part of a growing trend to explore the expressive potential of architecture that conveys the richness of the past along with the ability to preserve and evolve the future of aboriginal culture in Canada. The building features indoor and outdoor exhibits describing the history of the band, and the band’s role as stewards of the land. The building is designed to focus the visitor’s eye away from the encroaching development of Osoyoos to the west with views toward the nearby riparian landscape, or the rising desert landscape behind. Innovative in its design and featuring the largest rammed-earth wall in North America, it is not surprising that this building had received an RAIC Innovation Award in the Art category.
The jury found this project to be a powerful, intelligent, and simple architectural statement. The design incorporates a traditional rammed-earth wall in an innovative way and thereby creates a strong signature for the building. The project balances many current technologies with key elements of traditional technologies to tie the architecture to its physical and cultural location. The sourcing and use of local Blue Pine, which is not used commercially (due to business rather than technical reasons), was well thought out and suited to this application. The careful selection of sustainable materials and technologies all support the cultural and artistic objectives of the facility. Reduced water use, 100 percent natural ventilation and green roofs all support a larger project mission.
The gently curved rammed-earth wall set against the unusual desert sky of osoyoos in British Columbia's interior.