Self-Determined Architecture: Facilitating Indigenous Futures and Education with the First Nations Longhouse

Assoc. Prof. Marina Lommerse,
Julia (Julie) Cathrina Lommerse
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The past 35 years have witnessed a cultural revival within Canada’s aboriginal people and their relatives to the south. The growing number of native-determined buildings indicates the importance to aboriginal peoples to have buildings that house and reflect their current cultural concerns. Through this, a new native architecture has transpired. As described by Krinsky (1996, p. 10) “Modern Indian Architecture emerged…in tandem with a movement to renew and enhance other aspects of Indian culture”. However, exactly how the built environment plays a role in cultural rebuilding and communication is not always clear.

To explore this question, this case study examines the First Nations Longhouse at the University of British Columbia (UBC), in Vancouver, Canada. The Longhouse was built with a conscious effort to articulate contemporary First Nations cultural identity. First Nations elders , UBC staff and students directed the project from beginning to end. Through the involvement of cross-tribal elders, historical memories (which are integral to the regeneration and redefinition of their culture) were communicated. Through the stories and ceremonies (Figure 1), designs and forms for the Longhouse emerged that could be used to symbolically represent the future.

The First Nations Longhouse at UBC manifests the university’s ambitious mission: “to encourage, welcome and support native people in higher education” (Owen, 1994, p. 200). It also stands as a symbol of opportunity for the native people of the Pacific Northwest. The First Nations community at UBC is in a transformational period. The community recognised this in the development of their Longhouse. The results of their work have created a hybrid. It is a transformative space where First Nations cultures and values can exist in the 21st century. The Longhouse is a significant example of the success of a self-determined approach to the creation of a culturally-sensitive building and space.

Keywords: Indigenous Peoples of North America, Decolonisation, Indigenous Architecture, Self-determination, Indigenous Education
Stream: Aesthetics, Design
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Self-Determined Architecture

Assoc. Prof. Marina Lommerse

Associate Professor, Division of Humanities
Faculty of the Built Environment, Art and Design, Curtin University of Technology


Marina is an award winning interior architect and educator offering an international view having practiced in Canada, the UK, Australia and SE Asia. In 2001 she was a finalist in the Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT).
She actively links her research and teaching by conducting design workshops relating to place and culture in universities and communities around in Western Australia, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
Her current research and teaching involves the development of craft and design collaboratives in Western Australia (WA) for FORM: Contemporary Craft and Design. The two year project facilitates sustainable futures for creative people in the state.
In 2004 she curated a furniture exhibition called ‘designXchange’. She is working on two further exhibitions that she is curating for 2006. Marina has published internationally and presented at a number of national and international conferences.

Julia (Julie) Cathrina Lommerse

Parks Planner, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services, City of Burnaby

With university training in both Recreation Administration and Landscape Architecture Julie is currently applying her skills and background to her position as a Parks Designer for the City of Burnaby (Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada).

Interests include planning and design of recreational spaces including parks, public spaces and resorts. Also interested in environmental psychology and the psychological, physical and community health effects recreational spaces have on people and communities.

Other publications include;
Lommerse, J. 1986. “Environmental Design Highlights Patient Needs”, Hospital Trustee, March/April 1986, 13-14.
Lommerse, J. 1986. “Humanizing Patient Needs”, HospitAlta, Vol. XXV, Number 11 (March 1986), 17-18.

Ref: H06P0038