Anishnabe Healing Retreat
Parc La Verendrye, QC
Healing Lodge, Feast Lodge + 8 Healing Pavilions
Honourable Mention for Levine Prize for Excellence and Innovation in Integration of Environmental Systems
The inspiration for this theoretical project, entitled Bridging the Gap, is the Anishnabe (Algonquin) Seven Fires Prophecy which predicted that the time would come when Indigenous people would rise out of silence to seek again the sacred teachings from their Elders. They would use this knowledge to teach all nations how to attain inner balance and how to live in a harmonious relationship with the Earth.
The architectural design for the retreat included the creation of the program and the careful siting and design of several buildings.
Bridging the Gap provides a healing experience where Anishinabe Elders share their knowledge of healing and sustainability with visitors from all nations. Healing is a holistic practice which balances the four aspects of health: mind, body, spirit and emotion. Because of its holistic nature, healing can be applied to any problem, large or small. It is believed that any imbalances, if not healed, lead to layers of pain which build up within a person. In healing ceremonies a trained healing Elder helps identify the cause of the pain and then works with the individual to remove it. It is a long journey which involves revisiting the teachings to achieve balance. One emerges from the cycle cleansed and refreshed.
The purity of the surrounding environment plays an important role in the healing path. As such, Bridging the Gap spans the mouth of a turbulent river where it falls into the calm of Petit Lac Poigan. Anishinabe healing narratives were used to inform the design and to enhance the healing process. The result is an exercise in cultural and ecological sustainability. The time of the seventh fire is upon us.
The healing space bridges a cultural gap by facilitating an exchange of ideas between the Indigenous people and Westerners. Anishinabe people can learn about their own traditions, while Westerners will be taught to understand harmony between the four elements of health. All people will learn as they undertake the healing journey.
It is to be built and operated by local Indigenous people, lead by the Wawatie family, to encourage the transmission of skills and knowledge across generations. The final bridge occurs in the sharing of western and Indigenous strategies for ecological sustainability.
Just as the Elders teach visitors how to live in balance with the Earth, the buildings themselves must exist in a harmonious relationship with the environment. The project is sited to minimize negative impacts on the environment and to allow for passive design solutions for heating, cooling, lighting and ventilation. The ecological strategies used are derived from Anishinabe teachings and western green building practices. For example, Anishinabe people would traditionally burn fires at the base of a rock cliff, as the wall would store and radiate heat long after the fire died out. Likewise, rammed earth walls which have similar physical properties to sedimentary rock are used in conjunction with a heat source, such as the sun or a high efficiency stove, throughout the project.
Other green features include the resort which is completely off the grid, building materials sourced on site (earth, rock, wood), rammed earth walls, thermal mass and passive solar collectors, low-tech micro-hydro electricity, living gardens for waste treatment, biodegradable construction, composting toilets, indigenous planting, and a green educational program for visitors.
Healing is a journey and as such Bridging the Gap is experienced along a path which connects and moves through architectural interventions on the site. The spatial and experiential relationship between architectural elements on the path is informed by narratives used in the healing process. The physical path is narrow and winds through the forest creating a natural experience where trees and slopes frame the sequence of architectural elements. As Anishinabe teachings are subtle and require continued revisiting to reveal their true depth, the path is structured so that visitors must experience the architectural interventions repeatedly throughout their stay.
Two elements emerge as the primary points of reference: the feast lodge nestled in the hill above the east bank of the river, and the healing lodge, directly west across the river and bridges.
The sun rises in the east and as such, the feast lodge represents beginning and the present. The building flows in and spirals out of the mountain side creating a sense of weight and a relationship to the surrounding forest and slope.
Conversely, the sun sets in the west and as such the healing lodge represents the desired destination of balance and health. The building plunges through layers of the Earth and then spirals upwards which draws focus towards the sky and spiritual world. As a result the ceiling takes on an important role in the narrative. The tangled wood roof structure is reminiscent of the beaver lodge, as the beaver represents the fulfillment of destiny.
The tension between the present and the destination is articulated in the wooden bridges that break through the forest and across the turbulent water to join the two elements. The river is a powerful symbol of transition and helps the visitor recall the journey required to bring healing into their life.