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Globe and Mail: Unceded-Canada's Indigenous Design and Venice Biennale
Alex Bozikovic | January 9, 2018

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What Canada's entry at the next Venice Biennale really means

From Issue No. 265 | January 11, 2018

A rendering of the Unceded exhibition, which will be on display at the Venice Biennale in 2018.

A rendering of the Unceded exhibition, which will be on display at the Venice Biennale in 2018. 


Architecture is the art that forms the deepest roots. You can't make a building, or a city, without choosing a place. Yet Canadian architecture has often excluded those who have the strongest connections here: People of Indigenous descent and their traditions have been pushed aside.

Next year, a group of Indigenous curators will change that. The exhibition Unceded will be Canada's entry at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. It will "bring the Indigenous voice in architecture," architect David Fortin says, into the global conversation.

Curated by the eminent architect Douglas Cardinal, arts curator Gerald McMaster and Fortin, it will bring together work by a range of architects from across North America. And just what does "the Indigenous voice" have to say? Unceded promises to answer that question, and perhaps change the way Canada builds in this period of truth and reconciliation – not just in Indigenous communities but everywhere.


"There is a particular thinking that these architects are converging on," McMaster explains. "As with Indigenous art, it's a new medium, but there's a focus back on Indigenous principles and a discourse that's specific to them. That's what we're trying to articulate."

In conversations, the curators and some of their collaborators expressed a series of themes: valuing of local and traditional knowledge; deep consultation with the public who will live with a building; and a multigenerational perspective toward the Earth. It's not principally a question of a formal style or of particular building types, but of a world view.

"What is Indigenous architecture? There is no single definition," says Fortin, who is director of the McEwen School of Architecture at Laurentian University and associate director of the Maamwizing Indigenous Research Institute, the Sudbury university's centre for Indigenous research.

"At its most basic level, like with Indigenous art, there is a position that only design led by Indigenous architects can be considered as such," Fortin adds. But considered another way, it's "a region-specific design process that expresses the distinct cultures of the Indigenous peoples of that region," he explains, "including their specific social, ecological, visual, material and spiritual values."

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