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Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute

Rubin & Rotman Architects

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Project Description

Inspired by the Shaptuan, the Cree longhouse traditionally made of wood tree branches, the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute, occupies a central site in the heart of Ouje-Bougoumou, a James Bay native community. Intended as a museum and gathering place, the Institute serves as a showcase for Cree artifacts and as a venue for traditional music and storytelling events. Dedicated to the preservation and the transmission of Cree culture, Aanischaaukamikw includes a library and resource centre, permanent and temporary exhibit spaces, archiving and artifact storage facilities, administrative offices, community spaces, classrooms and other educational facilities.

For the architects, using wood was the obvious choice. The upper level is a long transparent space with an arched ceiling using locally produced glue-laminated wood beams, projecting above the roof structure. As in a Shaptuan, visitors are constantly aware of the open space around them and, due to thoughtful placement of fenestration, of their strategic position in the village. There is also a continual visual contact with the sky above, a traditional source of inspiration for the Cree people.

Northern Quebec’s harsh climate required the architects to focus on sustainable energy and construction practices. The building’s compact footprint, its orientation and geometry, as well as the integration of a geothermal heating and cooling system all contribute to minimize energy consumption, and the achieving of the targeted LEED Silver Certification.

While intent on creating a poetic object within the landscape of this community, the architects aimed at reconciling the time-honoured building traditions of the Cree with contemporary construction techniques. The use of wood was clearly beneficial to the regional industry but was also the ideal material from a symbolical point of view. Fir, cedar and maple were used as a constant reminder of the importance of the forest for the Cree Nation.
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