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Build Us Up: Lustel K’e Dene School

Lustel K’e Dene School, Northwest Territories

Taylor Architecture Group

Photography: Ihor Pona

Lustel K’e Dene School, Northwest Territories
Taylor Architecture Group
Photography: Ihor Pona

Home to nearly 300 people, the Denésoliné (Chipewyan) First Nation community of Łutsel K’e is located on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories and can be accessed by barge in summer or air freight any other time of the year. The need to upgrade their single JK-12 school presented an opportunity to increase attendance rates, which statistically were low. To achieve this, three design strategies were pursued. The first was to increase transparency and access to light: the existing school had solid partitions with typical compartmentalized rooms, which for locals was reminiscent of the oppressive residential school feel. In response, interior glazing was introduced to allow light and direct lines of sight to pass into and between the classrooms.

The second strategy was creating “neighbourhoods” for each age group: originally formed around a single linear corridor, during the re-design small sections of classrooms were carved out to create individual zones within the corridor for kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school, each with their own entrance and washrooms. These break-out areas enable each age group to have a sense of ownership over a pocket of space within the school. The interior glazing in corridor partitions allows these areas to be passively supervised from within the classrooms.

Thirdly, interior finishes were chosen that relate to nature and traditional life in Łutsel K’e. For example, although the original exterior log cladding was not salvageable, the interior log walls and wood components were refinished, and exposed interior posts were replaced with natural log columns to preserve the school’s history. At the main entrance, a sculptural wall was designed to reflect rock outcroppings along the banks of the East Arm. The corridor flooring pattern is an aerial interpretation of the Great Slave lakebed, and custom tackboard art walls in the corridors are based on sketches made by local students, showing tipis, wildlife, and aurora borealis.

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