Nicola Valley Institute of Technology

Merritt, British Columbia
Busby + Associates Architects

One of Canada’s first post-secondary facilities shared by a Native and non-Native institute, the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology was designed to reflect the cultural characteristics of the Aboriginal students, and to provide state-of-the-art learning spaces required by University College of the Cariboo. The program included classrooms, faculty offices, social spaces, labs, bookstore, cafeteria, and library. Internal “siting” of functional spaces was intended to eliminate any sense of hierarchy.

The design process involved intensive user-group interaction and numerous site visits with the Native elders. The semi-circular shape was the first gesture in the master plan. This shape is a meaningful and recurring Native theme and its use in the ceremonial arbour provides the focus of the space. Both the arbour and the building are oriented on the cardinal points with the building’s main entrance on the east axis, symbolizing the start of the day.

The building is designed as a cold climate green building, and this commitment to the “new technology” of environmental sustainability is in clear alignment with the historical Aboriginal structures of the area. The building emerges from the sloping site and evolves into a three-storey building, minimizing disruption of the undeveloped site. The “inner strip” of the semicircular rooftop is planted, adding to the sense of the building growing out of the landscape.

Traditional Native structures in this area were mainly pithouses and the trees used were small diameter local species. This building is a combination of wood and concrete with a wood column structural system, visually representing pithouse poles rising up through the interior space. A glazed ventilation stack with operable windows is a central feature of the main part of the building, and a critical element in the green design. Tensioned fabric is used in the front entrance canopy as well as in the ventilation stack for shading, a reference to the “stretched skins” utilized in Aboriginal design. A challenging and successful scheme that adheres to the rigorous budget requirements of the Ministry’s value analysis process, this is the first phase of a much larger campus plan on a 43-acre site which will soon be followed by campus housing.

Andresen: The architecture successfully contributes to the collective order of the institute by defining the central gathering space as an embrace of the open ground and at the scale of the landscape. The landscape connection between the inside and outside is further strengthened by the ceremonial axis linking the great court and the entry hall. The circular geometry is gently handled to reduce its controlling properties whilst retaining its natural enclosing properties. The design offers a range of meeting places distributed to reduce unwanted social and institutional hierarchy.

Macdonald: In establishing a clear geometric figure, the project amplifies the registration of topography and climate while providing a coherent organization of programme and declaring explicit concern for past traditions.

Pearl: This project clearly pays homage to both the cultural roots and philosophical principles of the First Nations community. Without resorting to iconographic quotations, this facility truly explores the values of siting and sustainability, using an imaginative palette of high and low-tech green motifs. From both a technical and compositional perspective, the “modern vernacular” expresses modesty and confidence, as it incorporates local materials and is inspired by its local microclimate.

Teeple: Principles of sustainable design co-mingle with First Nations mythology in a complementary manner in this project. The school is carefully sited, forming high-quality outdoor spaces between itself and the adjacent woods.

Client: Nicola Valley Institute of Technology; University College of the Cariboo

Architect Team: Peter Busby, Robert Drew, David Dove, Veronica Gillies, Susan Gushe, Rod Maas, Rick Piccolo, Soren Schou, Adam Slawinski, Alfred Waugh, Brian Wakelin, Nathan Webster, Thomas Winkler

Structural: Equilibrium Consulting Ltd.

Mechanical: Keen Engineering

Electrical: Earth Tech Canada

Landscape: True Engineering

Interiors: Busby + Associates Architects

Area: 48,632 sq.ft.

Budget: $7.65 million

Completion: June 2002

Photography: Nic Lehoux