Lemay designs new headquarters in Calgary for Indigenous youth

Rendering courtesy of Lemay


The Indigenous-led, not-for-profit organization Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth (USAY) is establishing a new youth centre in Calgary’s Forest Lawn neighbourhood. The centre is located on the traditional territory of the Siksika, Kainai, Piikani, Iyarhe Nakoda, and Tsuut’ina Nations, as well as the Metis Nation of Region 3. The plans result from 15 years of development, and a collaborative design process undertaken with architecture and design firm Lemay.

The youth centre, which is projected to be completed by March 2024, represents a built solution of accessibility, safety, cultural relevance, and efficiency.

Its form complements its purpose as a place of belonging and personal development for the thousands of Indigenous youth USAY supports between the ages of 12 and 29.

“USAY is thrilled to announce the construction of our new building, which will serve as a safe and supportive space in Calgary where we can empower Indigenous youth with the resources and support they need to succeed,” says LeeAnne Ireland, Executive Director of USAY. “With this new building, we will be able to expand our programming and reach even more young people in the community. We believe that this project will have a significant and positive impact on the lives of Indigenous youth in Calgary, and we are excited to see the difference it will make.”

Rendering courtesy of Lemay

The almost 5,000 square-foot structure provides for Calgary’s urban Indigenous youth through three primary spaces found across two floors.

The main floor combines a primary programming space for communal gathering and eating aligned with the Indigenous worldview of feasting. It is also capable of supporting youths who identify as non-binary, which connects to a multipurpose Maker’s Space for USAY’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) programming, learning opportunities, and cultural exchange for youth.

On the second floor, space is dedicated to staff offices, partnership meetings, and overflow areas for youth skill-building, practicums, and employment opportunities on the second floor. It leads out to a rooftop garden equipped for traditional medicines and teachings alongside communal seating that will allow for smudging, constellation teachings with Elders, self-care, and other activities under its pergola.

Located adjacent to the building, a 6,400-square-foot outdoor lot can host anything from sports to markets, food handouts, employment fairs, drum circles, and more.

“Lemay’s practice model is set up to create open dialogues and take time to create space for understanding, and USAY’s youth centre demonstrates the weight we place on meaningful, participatory approaches to co-designing space for communities,” explains Grace Coulter Sherlock, Regional Director of Lemay’s Western Canada office and Design Director for USAY’s youth centre. “That’s how we could best create a place that’s as safe as it is essential.”

Each of the youth centre’s spaces contains barrier-free entries and hallways mediated by wood and translucent polycarbonate panels to create a sense of both togetherness and privacy.

The USAY youth centre uses passive strategies such as solar gain and holistic elements of biophilia and natural lighting. This is done to enhance its site’s natural materials of wood and plant life as well as its rooftop space for the future integration of solar panels.