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Merritt distinction: within an area of previously untouched forest in British Columbia, a new technical institute seeks to merge aboriginal heritage and modern day sustainability.

Situated in a forest clearing on the northern side of the city of Merritt in BC, the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology is one of Canada's first post-secondary shared native/non-native institutions. By synthesizing aboriginal influences with state-of-the-art teaching facilities, the new 4500sq m building gives the University College of the Cariboo much-needed classroom, faculty office, laboratory, library and social spaces.

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As the first phase of a concentric masterplan--which is oriented on the cardinal points and centred on a ceremonial arbour--three levels of accommodation emerge from the gently sloping south-facing site to form a graceful terraced arc. While all levels are accessible at grade, the main entrance is via an easterly hall that forms the heart of the institute; a gently tapering triple-height space that reinterprets the traditions of the tepee with its centralized fireplace and glazed lantern.

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From this central point of orientation, students and teachers can descend to the basement laboratory suite (contained within a recessed masonry plinth to the south), proceed through to the library, bookstore, cafeteria, and reception spaces on the ground floor, or rise to the set back upper level which contains the principal teaching and faculty office spaces.

Recognized by natives as a precious resource, timber has been used relatively sparingly throughout. However, despite this restraint, the nature of wood dominates the character of the spaces both inside and out, with yellow cedar rain-screen cladding and acoustic panelling, and over 250 laminated and faceted douglas fir columns. Capped and delicately supported with steel castings, columns rise up to 36 feet (11m) in resonance with the site's forest setting. Elsewhere concrete soffits and glazed screens complete the building's muted palette, and support the environmental aspirations by increasing thermal mass, transparency, and daylight penetration.

Designed to perform 35 per cent below ASHRAE (American Society of Heating Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers) standards for energy efficiency, the mass of the structure and performance of the envelope are augmented by fully integrated passive ventilation and day lighting strategies with the glazed lantern drawing light and air to the core of the plan, and operable windows throughout (all achieved within the tight budget of C$1280 / [m.sup.2]). The ecological impact on the site was also a significant consideration, with minimal cut and fill, the provision of carefully integrated storm water retention areas, and the replanting of all disrupted areas with native species.

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Despite its relatively large scale (being over 120m in length), this new institutional building sits respectfully within its context with an appropriately monumental discretion. Built into the ground, with a planted roof and centralized wind chimney, it also successfully combines and subtly reinterprets the traditions of the pit-house and the tepee--two of the regions most enduring architectural typologies.

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Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Gregory, Rob
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2004
Words:478
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