The First Nations Longhouse emphasizes the First Nations’ long regional history and cultural practice of using wood in community buildings where artists and ceremonies keep traditions alive. The design combines traditional regional wood construction techniques of the Coast Salish peoples with contemporary architectural forms. The building serves as a home away from home to the First Nations, Métis and Inuit students, faculty and staff on campus. Community members can meet, engage in activities, and share their knowledge, culture and experiences with each other.
In addition to the Longhouse, the House of Learning includes the Xwi7xwa (pronounced whei-wha) Library, based on the circular form of Interior Salish pit houses, and the traditional Spirit Renewal Hall. The roof of the Longhouse is shaped in a parabolic curve, designed to resemble the wing of a bird in flight. It is covered in copper which was chosen for its ability to accommodate the complex shape and because it was a traditional material of value to the coastal First Nations people.
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 showcase for traditional wood building techniques and decoration. The four great houseposts and supporting roof beams are all western red cedar, hand carved in traditional First Nations designs by local artists.
The structural framing, as well as most of the interior finishes and exterior cladding, of the Longhouse is regionally-harvested western red cedar. The timber members were milled to a constant diameter and the detailing for the steel connections cut at the processing factory then assembled onsite. Lateral bracing is provided by light wood-framed shear walls constructed of hem-fir studs and sheathed in Douglas-fir plywood. The exterior cladding is ship-lap planks, naturally weathered to a warm grey. The interior is mostly tongue and groove planks with exposed rafters and purlins, all naturally stained.