Algoma University’s Indigenous Center embodies reconciliation and healing

Interior rendering of the Mukwa Waakaa’igan Center for Aboriginal Cultural Excellence. Photo courtesy of Moriyama & Teshima Architects

The design of the Mukwa Waakaa’igan Center of Indigenous Cultural Excellence at Algoma University in St. Sault Marie, Ontario, draws heavily on the construction expertise held by Anishinabek Nation Elders and leaders communities, to act as a physical monument to reconciliation and healing.

The project is a collaboration between Indigenous-owned Smoke Architecture and Moriyama & Teshima Architects, of Ottawa and Toronto. The architectural design of the center was articulated with consideration of Indigenous teachings, from the form of the building to the selection of materials.

At the entrance to the Algoma University campus is Shingwauk Hall, a former boarding school that operated between 1875 and 1970. Since the school’s official closure, the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA) has been working with the University Algoma to teach the truth about residential school. the history of the school system in Canada and work towards healing.

The architectural expression of the new Cultural Center comes from the land, rising in three ways that represent the past, the present and the future, and rising above the boarding school. This elevated position provides visitors with a stronger, more commanding and dignified vantage point from which to view the history of the site.

Smoke Architecture’s design practice rediscovers Indigenous knowledge in contemporary contexts. This land-based learning process applies to every project the company undertakes, using engagement tools, design techniques and building systems designed specifically for each community and location.

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