The Kwakiutl Wagalus School was designed by Lubor Trubka Associates Architects for the Kwakiutl First Nation – a rural community located in Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
The Kwakiutl Wagalus School accommodates up to 86 students from Kindergarten to Grade 7 and features four classrooms, gymnasium/auditorium, and space for a preschool. The heart of the school, the multi-purpose room, represents a modern interpretation of Kwakiutl’s traditional Big House.
Wood construction is highlighted throughout this impressive facility. Large, round timbers are featured in the entrance foyer and prefabricated, over-height wall panels with stained wood were used for the gym’s interior and exterior walls.
Additional design features include visually-striking glulam roof trusses and the extensive use of locally-sourced wood products. To simplify the construction of the large gymnasium, and save money, it was designed as an all wood, prefabricated system that was manufactured off site, complete with exterior finishes. Once on site, it was erected by a small crew.
The embodiment of cultural values into the design was accomplished through a series of design charrettes with the enthusiastic participation of community members (around 160 people attending) including Chief and Council, elders, artists, teachers and the future users of the school – the children.
Wood is the prominent element in all aspects of the Kwakiutl Wagalus School design both structurally and in the interior and exterior finishes. Cedar from local forests is a feature component of the interior architectural articulations, with the structural systems a key feature of the interiors.
Materials and Design Rationale
The heart of the school – the Multi-Purpose Room – was inspired by the form and structure of the Kwakwaka’ wakw “Big House” and consists of four Western Red Cedar posts supporting four cedar beams. The roof structure above consists of Douglas Fir glu-lam purlins and TJI joists. A large central skylight mimics the smoke opening in the Big House welcoming the sun.
The interior walls of the Multi-Purpose Room are clad with 1″x15″ Western Red Cedar planks installed vertically, reminiscent of the traditional cladding used on Kwakwaka’wakw Big Houses, while the ceiling surrounding corridors are finished with custom acoustic panels featuring 2″x4″ high grade KD-SPF turned on edge and integrating the lighting seamlessly.
The gymnasium was designed as a system of prefabricated wood ‘tilt-up’ panels to minimize the adverse effects of a rainy west coast climate by accelerating the construction process. The panels are 8′ wide conventional lumber framing between Douglas Fir glu-lam edges. The interior paneling on the walls is made of 1/2″ stained plywood chosen for its strength and durability. Custom acoustic paneling constructed from 2″x4″ high grade KD-SPF is strategically placed on the walls. The ceiling plywood panels are perforated to manage the acoustics of the space. The flooring is a maple hardwood sports floor.
The classrooms are constructed in conventional 2″x6″ wood framing with strategic use of Douglas Fir glu-lam posts and beams. The interiors highlight the use of wood through detailed architectural woodwork around wood doors and interior windows. The doors and wood trim details are stained vertical grain Douglas Fir. The millwork throughout the school is also an all wood, custom design with birch wood veneer finishes.