The Saddle Lake Cree Nation is located in central Alberta, 24 km west of St. Paul and 180 km northeast of Edmonton. Deeply passionate about providing opportunities and a positive future for their members, the Chief, Council, and community determined the need for a new school to serve their youngest generations and the generations to come.
We invited stakeholders throughout the design process to join us in sharing their vision for the new building. A central tenet of our stakeholders’ discussions was that the school be integrated within the community as a culturally-relevant and inclusive space. The building will provide not only a space for formal instruction, but a place for children and Nation members to thrive, engage with their culture, and grow within the community. That the school accommodates sustainable design practices and ‘live lightly upon the earth’ was widely considered to be of critical importance to the success of the building.
A CONTEMPORARY CULTURAL LEARNING EXPERIENCE
We designed with the intention of facilitating a safe, enabling, and nurturing environment for both students and staff. To ensure students’ success, the design integrates 21st Century Learning practices, which integrate technologies and innovation within the learning experience and connect students to their local and global communities. Much of the school space is dedicated to land-based learning opportunities, which include herb and vegetable gardens, outdoor tables for traditional working activities, such as fish cleaning, berry drying and hide stretching, a water channel to catch and distribute rainwater throughout the landscaping, and areas for play and sports. An outdoor classroom, designed in a traditional circular formation, can be found to the north of the building.
LIVING LIGHTLY UPON THE LAND
The potential exists to design the Saddle Lake K-6 school to net zero standards. We take a holistic approach to sustainability, in which a building’s capacity for environmental sustainability is viewed alongside its relationship with the community and culture. In alignment with our overarching goal to contribute to the longevity of the school as a cultural and educational site and to preserve its inherent natural beauty, we implemented several key strategies. We situated the building to run east to west and installed numerous operable windows, maximizing available daylight and promoting natural ventilation during the summer. Materials are prioritized for their durability and renewability, as well as their beauty. The envelope is exceptional in its energy efficient design, ensuring the school’s health and integrity for years to come.