Muscowpetung Powwow Arbour

Oxbow Architecture & Richard Kroeker


“Simplicity is very difficult to achieve. This project has a delightfully simple air to it that provides a nuanced and subtle reference to traditional morphology for this ceremonial building, and avoids the pitfalls of colonial representation. The very thoughtful use of pattern, repetitive structural elements, and a clever balance of structural systems creates a shelter that hovers over the Prairie landscape awaiting the celebrations of deep-rooted traditions on the lands. The physical connection to the land is appropriately light and ephemeral. The project will be delightful in a state of celebration, and also in the state of quietness between powwows.” – Peter Hargraves, juror

The economy of means nods to the teepees traditionally constructed by Plains Indigenous groups.

Drum groups and dancers often spend their summers on the powwow trail, making cross-country treks to compete for titles, share songs, dance, and revitalize traditional ways while engaging with community members from across many First Nations.

Muscowpetung Salteaux Nation is based on a Qu’Appelle Valley reserve, approximately 70 km northeast of Regina. The design of the Muscowpetung Powwow Arbour draws inspiration from Indigenous building traditions, including the demountable structures that First Nations of the Great Plains carried with them as they followed the buffalo. Although the arbour is a permanent building, like a teepee it makes efficient use of materials that are lightweight, locally sourced, and readily available. It uses local timber and a system of cables that, the design team explains, “works like the stored energy of a drawn bow-string and the tensioning elements of drum heads.”

The roof is designed to use locally sourced, lightweight materials as efficiently as possible, and to allow for on-site assembly by the local community.

Developed in consultation with community and band leadership, the arbour’s design also considers and capitalizes on present-day local knowledge, labour and materials. Its lightweight system of spanning components avoids bending moments, and allows for onsite assembly by the local community. It is envisioned that the community will harvest pine and spruce poles from the bush; these poles will be cut to length and debarked on site, ensuring precise dimensionality and eliminating the need to outsource. Local metal fabricators who would normally fashion parts for farm machinery could be employed to fabricate the metal connectors.

The circle has great symbolic significance in many Indigenous cultures, and the arbour’s structural system requires a circular geometry to balance its loads. The arbour is to be erected on a field planted with shade-tolerant grasses; this vegetation provides the dance surface within the perimeter drum circle. The structure is oriented to the four cardinal directions, with Grand Entry from the east.

Open to the sky at its centre and constructed in concentric rings—with some vertical separation between them for light penetration and ventilation—the wide, conical roof hovers above the plain. Around the perimeter, slender, teepee-style log tripods support the canopy and the stands.

The roof’s design incorporates rainwater harvesting techniques and renewable energy technologies that offer significant benefits to the community. Precipitation harvested from the 4,900-square-metre roof surface will irrigate an adjacent medicine garden and orchard. As well, the roof is designed to accommodate photovoltaic panels capable of generating 378,000 kWh per year—enough to meet approximately half the energy needs of all houses on Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation land.

A circular geometry is used to balance the roof loads, and reinforces the importance of the circle in Indigenous cultures.

CLIENT Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation, Saskatchewan | ARCHITECT TEAM Richard Kroeker, Brad Pickard (MRAIC), Sam Lock (MRAIC), Rory Picklyk (SAA, FRAIC), Meghan Taylor, Tanis Worme, Ashley Graf | STRUCTURAL Jon Reid, Wolfrom Engineering | LANDSCAPE Oxbow Architecture | AREA 2,100 m2 | BUDGET Withheld | STATUS Design Development | ANTICIPATED COMPLETION Summer 2024