Levitt Goodman’s Longhouse wins big

Canadian architecture firm Levitt Goodman Architects has just received notification from Interior Design Magazine in New York that its Longhouse for the Native Child and Family Services Building in Toronto has been honoured with a prestigious Interior Design Best of Year Award. Levitt Goodman is one of four firms to win an award in the Institutional category. On Dec, 2, at a celebration in New York, the firm will receive either a Merit Award or the top Best of Award.

Situated on a mezzanine overlooking the main entrance of the Native Child and Family Services Building, Levitt
Goodman’s Longhouse was conceived as a multipurpose room for the Toronto aboriginal centre. It is used
both formally and informally for public assemblies and spiritual ceremonies, drumming and circle sessions, for
counselling, meetings and children’s playtime. Inspired by the traditional birch sapling structures of southern
Ontario, it is a contemporary iteration of a longhouse, providing urban aboriginals with an authentic Native
experience within a non-Native environment.

The Longhouse’s outer husk is formed from horizontal strips of eastern white cedar. Its interior is a honey-coloured
barrel vault of cedar with radial curved ends held by gracefully torqued and spliced arches whose
continuous crisscrossing wraps the interior like a net. The lamellar structure of mutually dependent, arched
frame segments was typically used in the 1950s and ’60s for airplane hangars and sports stadiums. The project
is a product of both digital design and handcrafted construction. The architects created a 3D computer model
of the structure that the fabricators used to cut each piece and it was pre-fabricated in the shop. To decrease
the construction time on site, the components were numbered, disassembled and reconstructed on site with
final adjustments made by hand.

Like the experience of a great work of art, the Longhouse’s interior defies people’s accelerated habits. Its
sensuousness slows down one’s breath and inspires contemplation and healing, thereby facilitating the
activities that take place within its walls. According to the building’s executive director, Kenn Richard, “With
the increasing migration of Native peoples from reserves to large urban centers, it will be important to have
beacons and guideposts such as this to not only show the way but also to affirm and support the cultural and
spiritual integrity of these developing communities. In some ways the longhouse is a foundation on which a new
urbanized indigenous reality will emerge.”