First Nations Longhouse

Location

Vancouver, BC

Size

2,000 square metres

Completion

1992

Structural Engineer

CWMM Consulting Engineers

Species

Western red cedar

Western hemlock

Douglas-fir

The Longhouse at the University of BC is a striking example of Coast Salish architecture, a single-storey heavy timber structure that is a visual poem to regional western red cedar, inside and out.
  • Coast Salish people have historically used cedar for everything from furniture, textiles, basket weaving, to larger, structural applications.
  • Cedar houseposts, carved by First Nations artists, are a metre in diameter.
  • Wood is used for its structural properties as well as cultural and spiritual value.

The First Nations Longhouse reflects Indigenous Peoples’ long history and cultural practice of using wood in community buildings where artists and ceremonies keep traditions alive. The design combined traditional wood construction techniques of the Coast Salish peoples with contemporary architectural forms. The building serves as a home away from home to the Indigenous, Métis and Inuit students, faculty and staff on campus. Students have access to study space, a computer lab, and gathering spaces. The Longhouse is also the location for administrative offices, including those of the First Nations House of Learning.  

A parabolic curved roof 

The roof of the Longhouse is a dramatic curve, resembling the wing of a bird in flight. The structure is constructed of oversize cedar logs, covered in copper, which was chosen for its ability to accommodate the complex shape, and because it is a traditional material of value to coastal First Nations people.  

Locally sourced red cedar is the star 

The Longhouse is a Musqueam-style shed: a single-storey heavy timber structure sited to align with the cardinal compass directions. As the focal point of the Longhouse, the great hall—Sty-Wet-Tan—is a 334 square-metre gathering space that showcases traditional wood building techniques and decoration. The four houseposts and supporting roof beams in the hall are western red cedar, hand carved in traditional Indigenous designs by local artists. The houseposts are a metre in diameter. The structural framing, as well as most of the interior finishes and exterior cladding of the Longhouse are made of local western red cedar.  

Traditional look meets modern technique 

The timber members were milled to a constant diameter and the detailing for the steel connections cut at the processing factory, and then assembled onsite. Light wood-framed shear walls constructed of hemlock-fir studs and sheathed in Douglas-fir plywood provide lateral bracing. The exterior cladding is rough-hewn shiplap planks, naturally weathered to a soft grey. The interior is mostly tongue-and-groove planks with exposed rafters and purlins, or horizontal beams, all naturally stained.