December 2015

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DECEMBER 2015 | 75 Gordon Oakes Redbear Student Centre – University of Saskatchewan PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY RBM ARCHITECTURE INC. Gordon Oakes Redbear Student Centre – University of Saskatchewan by ROBIN BRUNET D ouglas Cardinal is one of Canada's most respected architects, best known for the Canadian Museum of History in Quebec and one of the first North American architects to use com- puters to assist in the design process. Cardinal brings decades of authority and expertise to every project in which he becomes involved. But when it comes to discussing the University of Saskatchewan's new Gordon Oakes Redbear Student Centre, the veteran architect becomes extremely philosophical. "The challenge of this proj- ect was to take the vision of the elders and indigenous students and bring them to reality, which has become my spe- cialty," he says. Cardinal – partnering with Paul Blaser of RBM Architecture commenced work on the project in 2007 – adds that art is inseparable from First Nations culture; and in design and intent, the Gordon Oakes Redbear Student Centre is the liv- ing embodiment of this reality. "The proj- ect required enormous consultation with elders and other First Nations members, and this was crucial in order for us to accu- rately represent the Aboriginal world- view within an institution that expresses a European point of view," he says. Purely from an esthetic viewpoint, the facility is an elegant work of sculp- tural art, designed as a series of cir- cles and semi-circles within each other, with a Tyndall stone landscape wall slowly undulating and eventually wrap- ping itself around to become the north- ern wall of the building; a symbolic blanket protecting the centre from Saskatchewan's northern winter winds. Familiar First Nations artistic elements are seamlessly blended into the design, from the colours and textures evoca- tive of buckskin, to colourful fieldstone "beads" incorporated into surfaces. The south side entrance is arranged in such a way that people move fol- lowing the path of the sun through the building. Along the east of the building the wall gently curves back on itself and enters the interior, eventually envelop- ing the ceremonial space at the centre and returning to the earth as the focal form of the western stairwell. Cardinal points out that such elements serve a purpose, namely to reflect the cul- ture and values of the First Nations. For example, the building has four quadrants representing the four cardinal directions. Each of these directions represents a sea- son and has a particular colour – south (summer, red), east (spring, yellow), west (fall, dark but not black), and north (winter, white). Cardinal adds, "Another impor- tant design element is that the entire structure opens its arms to the south, towards the migratory patterns of birds and life itself." Even mundane components have taken on a symbolic importance under Cardinal's guidance. For example, the basement has a tunnel to provide quick passage to the Arts and Sciences and Health Services, but it also features a large pillar filled with earth that con- nects the ground floor to the basement – a reminder of the importance of being connected to the planet. Blaser says, "We very carefully addressed the tech- nical challenges in bringing to life what was an extremely poetic design." Frequently, design solutions served practical as well as esthetic needs. "For example, we used structural columns for air distribution, but these columns are part of the form rather than interfering with the sculptural flow," says Blaser. A highlight of the interior is the cus- tom carved wood bulkheads that fol- low a sweeping curve of the circular walkway around the centre space. This provides a graceful architectural expression and also frames the view up to the third floor central skylight. The bulkheads were milled by Bow Wood Cabinet Systems. "The bulkheads we created for Gordon Oakes were made of maple and required precision crafting," says project manager Phil Gay. "This was a big, complex project for us, but the end result was a real showpiece for the centre space." Because tobacco use is integral to Aboriginal ceremonial practices (which conf licted with campus health and safety standards), the architects devised a mechanically aided evacuation system for the centre's ceremonial space. "All the smoke rises vertically to the skylight and out into the four directions," says Blaser. "It's a lovely technical element." From a practical viewpoint, the building, which is named after the late Saskatchewan treaty elder and spiri- tual leader Gordon Oakes, provides a meeting place for the University's 1,900 Aboriginal students – about nine per cent of the institution's overall popula- tion – as well as services and supports. The idea for the facility had been dis- cussed for many years by administra- tors, and its location between the Murray Library and the Arts and Science build- ings is considered prime, high-profile real estate – appropriate, given the University's overall strategy to increase Aboriginal enrolment to 15 per cent by 2020. BIM played a significant role in achieving the fast-track requirement of construction, which Clark Builders com- menced in June of 2013. That's because the steel components that would be used to provide the circular shape of the building and sloping roof required a 3D visualization and systematic approach in modelling. A precise method of mod- elling was also needed since the fascia would be sloping on a split level. The extensive stonework required for the design was a "significant" chal- lenge, according to Blaser. "However, we retained an incredible mason, Luc Durette, president of Scorpio Masonry, who used historic techniques to create a modern expression," adds Blaser. Similarly, it was a challenge getting blue anodized windows that represent grandmother water as a counterpoint to the grandfather stone. This was over- come working with the contractor to find an anodizing firm that could fulfill the project's specific technical requirements. By the summer of 2015, windows were being installed, the stone finish was almost completed, the interior was being dry-walled and painted, and elec- trical and mechanical equipment was being prepared. Wood from 17 elm trees that had to be removed to accommodate construction had been cut into planks for feature walls and a reception desk. Cardinal is excited by the final out- come: "The entire building reflects the fun- damentals of Aboriginal culture; it is less of an architectural expression and more of a structure that tells a story," he says. Blaser notes, "We're thrilled with the outcome. When you can take a very spiri- tual design, work it through a demanding technical process, and have that design perfectly represented in the final out- come, that's the essence of architecture." Graeme Joseph, team leader of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Student Success at the University of Saskatchewan, sum- marized the sentiments of his colleagues when he told the press in September, "This is going to be a pivotal moment in the his- tory of this University. The aboriginal community in this province is younger and growing, and what Gordon Oakes is going to be able to do is provide us with a platform to meet this increased need." A LOCATION 5 Campus Drive, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan OWNER/DEVELOPER University of Saskatchewan ARCHITECT Douglas Cardinal Architect Inc. ASSOCIATE ARCHITECT RBM Architecture GENERAL CONTRACTOR Clark Builders STRUCTURAL CONSULTANT ETS Engineering Inc. MECHANICAL CONSULTANT Key West Engineering Ltd. ELECTRICAL CONSULTANT PWA Engineering Ltd. LEED CONSULTANT Integrated Design TOTAL SIZE 20,000 square feet TOTAL CONSTRUCTION COST $13 million 8:00 AM

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