TransAlta sponsors a unique learning opportunity for Tsuu T’ina students

Jun 18, 2015

A passion for inspiring budding architects

Two highly experienced experts in architecture came to facilitate the week-long workshop, held at the Tsuu T’ina high school. Wanda Dalla Costa, an architect as well as a member of the Saddle Lake First Nation in northern Alberta, has over 20 years of experience working with aboriginal groups and came in to facilitate the workshop from her indigenous architecture firm based in Los Angeles. Her former professor and mentor, Graham Livesey is a professor at the Master of Architecture Program at the University of Calgary (U of C). Both have a passion for inspiring students interested in design in any discipline.

“I specialized in indigenous architecture, and being in the profession, there are very few native architects in Canada,” says Dalla Costa.

“I think the problem is that we have to catch them at the high school level to get them interested in this profession, provide awareness that it exists, not only architecture, but landscape architecture, engineering, interior design.”

Incorporating the indigenous worldview into design

The team came up with a project that would have students conceive, design and build a structure inspired by an animal that is part of the Tsuu T’ina traditional culture. Choosing from a thunderbird, beaver, eagle, bear, buffalo or wolf, the students would eventually build a tent-sized structure based on the animal.

Hal Eagletail, a cultural educator from the Tsuu T’ina nation, came to talk to the students about the significance of the animals at the beginning of the session and to critique their creations at the end. Emulating traditional aboriginal building techniques, the students built their structures with willow, twine and fabric.

“We’re using some of the techniques we use in my masters students studio but also trying to blend in some traditional knowledge,” said Livesey.

“There was a lot of teamwork involved and the students seemed to really enjoy building these structures from scratch.”

A new perspective for students

The 10-12 students who participated in the workshop were not only exposed to the design process and the integration of their culture into architecture, but were able to visit a local architecture firm to see what the day to day is like for many architects. The workshop provided a new perspective on the future for many students.

“It inspired me to join one of the programs at the U of C because there’re not many native architects in Canada,” said Delaine Wells, a grade 11 student.

“I think the most important thing for the students is to have that introduction to design and to have them understand that it can be extremely cultural and to show them that it is a subject not too far removed from their beliefs,” says Dalla Costa.

“When I practice indigenous architecture with different tribes, it’s all about incorporation of that culture, from the shape of the building to the way the light moves into the building to the patterns within the building, it’s such a rich field for native students. I just want to encourage students to be involved in it.”

Sponsoring this workshop is a great fit for TransAlta’s Aboriginal Relations mandate to build stronger, mutually beneficial relationships with the Aboriginal Communities in whose traditional lands we work, like the Tsuu T’ina nation in Southern Alberta.

June 18, 2015

Workshop photos