University of Toronto Scarborough - Indigenous House

Scarborough, Ontario

On University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus, a new building inspired by traditional Indigenous Ways of Knowing, will provide Indigenous staff and students with a culturally place in which to foster connections to culture and community.

 

The University of Toronto commissioned Indigenous House to provide the Scarborough Campus’ Indigenous staff and students with a culturally appropriate place to foster community and belonging. The two-storey building combines purpose-designed spaces for exhibitions, classes and gatherings and ceremonies where none had previously existed.

Our main design goal was to draw on traditional Indigenous Ways of Knowing to guide the building’s design, construction and engineering. Drawing on the input of local Elders, the grounds and surrounding area will be planted with medicinal and other native tree and plant species including a thicket of birch trees. 

Visitors approach by ascending earth ramps seeded with medicinal plants, overlooking a large outdoor gathering space with views of the Highland Creek Ravine. Inspired by a wigwam, the building’s distinctive ovoid-shaped structure is fashioned from a curved diagrid of glue-laminated timber, recalling traditional bentwood construction techniques. Inside, a logical plan places offices and services at the centre, round gathering spaces at each end, and an atrium connects the two levels while strengthening the round expression of the ceremonial spaces.

Our design was also informed by the strategies used to heat and insulate traditional winter wigwams, incorporating a super insulated envelope as well as a passive ventilation system. Fresh air is circulated into Indigenous House through a sculptural concrete ventilation totem intake in a manner similar to how a winter wigwam’s indoor fire was fed fresh air from an underground birch bark tube with an outdoor exhaust. This fresh air then flows through earth tubes set almost three metres below ground, using the warmth of the earth to moderate air temperature before entering the energy recovery ventilator (ERV). This passive heating and cooling system complies with traditional values and negates the need for smoke alarms, which will enable the users to conduct indoor smudge ceremonies without interruption.

Awards

2023 Canadian Architect Award

Media

BlogTO – (November 2021) Toronto is getting a breathtaking new building unlike anything it’s seen before
Globe and Mail – (September 2020) A new Indigenous House in Toronto shows an architecture that goes deep
Canadian Architect – (December 2023) Jury Comments: 2023 Canadian Architect Awards of Excellence