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Build 2000


Culturally Significant Space -- Architecture of Trent's newest building celebrates Aboriginal learning and knowledge

Like its students, staff and faculty, its teaching and learning environment, and its mission, the architecture of Trent University is uniquely diverse. Peter Gzowski College and the First Peoples House of Learning - the latest and largest addition to the Symons Campus - is no exception.

However, the building is exceptional for what it is and what it represents. The Enweying Building is home to an integrated living and learning environment, and its design is representative and in celebration of, Aboriginal learning and knowledge. The thoughtfulness and deliberate design of Enweying while very Trent, also provides an array of opportunities for discussion and dialogue. This is highly appropriate for a building with an Ojibway name meaning 'The Way We Speak Together.'

Based on an extensive vision statement developed by the First Peoples House design committee, the design of the building was developed by Dunlop Two Row in association with Erik Wilke Architect. The work of these individuals contributes to the diversity of Trent's celebrated architecture, which blends the work of at least a dozen architects, says Susan Apostle-Clark, Vice President (Academic).

"The design for the new college has taken considerable strides, incorporating residential, academic and administrative space in the tradition of Trent's integrated college model while embracing Aboriginal culture and the educational needs of Aboriginal people - testimony that architecture is indeed an important intellectual experience at Trent," says Prof. Apostle-Clark.

"At Trent University the intensity of our debates distinguishes us from other universities. The design of Trent's newest building draws heavily on the needs and vision of academics and students who desired a different intellectual environment to inspire performance, teaching and research."

This fall, Peter Gzowski College and the First Peoples House of Learning came to life. Despite years of planning and preparation, the building didn't begin to breathe until September 2004, when it was infused with the excitement of hundreds of students, living and learning. Canada's First Peoples and their traditions were close to Mr. Gzowski's heart, so it is fitting that the First Peoples House of Learning and the new college are intertwined in this building.

"The Enweying/Peter Gzowski College and First Peoples House of Learning is a complex project," says Principal Architect Michael Moxam. "It represents the largest single addition to the campus since its inception in 1963. The design concept balances not only the multi-faceted student, faculty and administrative requirements but also establishes a strong symbolic representation of this new cultural layer on campus."

The First Peoples House of Learning encompasses ceremonial and gathering spaces, and a specially-designed performance space, among other distinctive Aboriginal elements. The hues of the building, including the ochre cladding, are derived from the four colours of the medicine wheel: yellow, red, black and white.

"This building is an attempt to bring an indigenous presence back to the consciousness of Canada. The ochre colour of the building represents a celebration of that heritage and of our survival," says Prof. David Newhouse, Chair of the First Peoples House Design committee and the first Principal of Peter Gzowski College. "The College and the First Peoples House are intertwined with each other, each maintaining its own distinct entity yet living side by side, much as we are attempting to do in Canada."

To the Symons Campus, Enweying provides an additional 140,000 square feet of academic and residential space and is part of the first major expansion at Trent in decades. True to the founding philosophy of Trent, the building provides a place for students to engage with their academic seniors in small teaching spaces. It encompasses 12 classrooms and lecture halls, 70 faculty offices, 250 single residence rooms and a dining hall, along with the elements of the First Peoples House of Learning that are also accessible to the community at large.

"The idea behind the distributed space is to reflect the distribution of Aboriginal Peoples throughout the country: that all Aboriginal Peoples are not in one place and to ensure that the encounter with aboriginality is everywhere and unexpected, much as it is in Canada. The Aboriginal elements were also designed to push the boundaries of Aboriginal representation," says Prof. Newhouse. "Trent has been extremely successful at pushing the academic boundaries in Aboriginal programming and now in making an outstanding contribution to the creation of places of dignity and respect for Aboriginal Peoples."

Among numerous representative design elements, the ground floor of the building is open to create a sense of sitting gently on the land, to be respectful of it. At Trent, the construction process began with an Anishnaabe ceremony to ask for forgiveness from the land and we ended the building process with a ceremony to ask the land to accept and honour what we had built upon it and to take care of it.

Another representative design element is the First Peoples Gathering Space, which is clad in weathered steel, which will turn red as it rusts. The shape of the Gathering Space honours the Anishnaabe/Ojibway peoples of this area. The steel cladding was chosen to honour the legacy of the Mohawk/Iroquoian steelworkers, also from this territory. Also, the design of First Peoples Performance Space represents a rock lodged in the landscape: irregular and partly buried. This space is home to the work of the nation's first Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Arts and Literature.

The siting of the building is also significant. This prominent location, on the east side of the Otonabee River, was chosen to represent two centres of learning in this land: the Bata library on the west bank represents the European heritage of the book; the Enweying building on the east side represents the Aboriginal heritage of the land.

"It sends an enormous statement about the new world that we are trying to create here at Trent," says Prof. Newhouse. "A place where indigenous knowledge is honoured as much as the knowledge of the European settlers of the last few hundred years who have come to dominate the land."

The building is also home to the departments of Business Administration, Economics, Mathematics, and Native Studies, and provides a prominent location for the Office of Research and Graduate Studies. Dr. Jim Parker, Associate Vice-President (Research), says working in the building provides a wonderful opportunity to share space, in a beautiful environment, with a diverse group of students, faculty and staff.

For several of the departments located in the building, it is the first time students, staff and faculty have been united by the space they share.

"For the first time in the department's history, our faculty can interact on a daily basis, our students have a sense of place, and our visitors are impressed by the quality of the surroundings in which we work," says Dr. Torben Drewes, Chair, Department of Economics.

Dr. Jacqueline Muldoon, Director of the Business Administration Program and Dr. Bing Zhou, Chair, Department of Mathematics, say the common spaces in their areas offer an atmosphere of community, where students and their professors can interact both formally and informally.

"It is important to all Aboriginal Peoples, not only here in Canada but around the world, to have places like Trent University where the identity and cultures of Aboriginal Peoples are not only recognized but celebrated," says Prof. Mark Dockstator, Chair, Native Studies Department. "When combined, all of these elements make the new home of the Native Studies Department truly a 'home' - a comfortable, safe and inviting place for all to meet, learn and 'speak together'."

Posted December 9, 2004

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