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One size does not fit all says Alain Fournier. The diversity of First Nations structures is "astounding," for those who care to discover the many different built forms that have come from First Nations culture.

The importance of culturally responsive architecture for Indigenous people

Architecture is more than just formless infrastructure. Connections to culture are important to one's well-being, says Montreal architect Alain Fournier.

Fournier presented some of his ideas at an event held at the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada's Festival of Architecture, in Nanaimo, B.C. earlier this year.

He said there's an "almost symbiotic" relationship between a people's culture and their architecture, he said. And speaking more specifically about Inuit and First Nations Fournier said it is important to design a culturally responsive built environment that acknowledges indigenous culture.

To move towards a culturally responsible built environment, Fournier said, one must face several challenges. International architecture vs. regional architecture is a "big debate" Fournier said, and warned against homogenization.

In order to bridge the gap, it is important to identify the traditional owners of land and structures, gather information, build relationships, and engage in "visioning."

In British Columbia alone, there are 33 different Nations, so "one size does not fit all," Fournier said. The diversity of First Nations structures is "astounding," he added, for those who care to discover the many different built forms that have come from First Nations culture.

There are conditions in the backdrop, such as the history of residential schools and other moments which must be accounted for when designing for First Nations, he said.

It is imperative to meet First Nations people to consult and to understand, Fournier said, but "leave the jargon at the door."

Visioning, Fournier said, is a process that is non-academic but very important. It requires bringing together disparate groups to develop the project "in a way they will identify with."

Designing a culturally responsible built environment has to be from oral to built form, the "embodiment of the narrative," he said. 

Early projects made no attempt to consult with First Nations cultures or to reflect them in structures, Fournier said, but this is slowly changing, citing several projects in the far north that reflected local features and fauna such as the beluga whale.

To read more on this fascinating subject, download this pdf.

(Story from


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