Sen̓áḵw’s past becomes a foundation for the future
For the Squamish Nation, Sen̓áḵw is historical, ancestral ground near the Kitsilano water’s edge; it is where the Squamish People lived among natural surroundings, and over centuries, nurtured a deep connection with the land, sea and sky.
Used as a noun, Sen̓áḵw literally means, “the place inside the head of False Creek.” Used as a verb, the word accurately describes the Squamish Nation’s development project: “The start of something beautiful; respect for nature, for Indigenous peoples, for healing, and for a new path forward.”
Featuring 11 residential towers, including 6000 rental apartments, a mixed-use program, and 7.5 acres of community space adjacent to the water’s edge, the green expanse of Vanier Park, and covered space below the Burrard Bridge, Sen̓áḵw is a collaboration between Kasian (Architect of Record), Revery (Design Architect) and Nch’kaỷ Development Corporation (Squamish Nation’s development arm) and Westbank Projects Corp. This exciting project will define a foundation for Squamish Nation’s future while also recapturing the site’s fundamental importance for its people.
*Early master plan concept renderings prepared by Kasian; current design renderings prepared by Revery
Working on a project of such cultural importance, our team’s primary challenge was reaching a sensitive, contextual understanding of the Squamish’s connection to the site. What meaning did Sen̓áḵw have for the Squamish People, and how could we recapture some of that significance to create a meaningful expression in the present day?
The Squamish Nation were very interested in moving forward; they did not want a historical project that reached into the past, but rather, one that projected a bright future for the Nation. Not only did Sen̓áḵw offer an opportunity to re-establish a permanent presence on ancestral lands, but it was a chance for the Squamish to generate long-term income that could be used to maintain the Nation’s health and well-being and re-invested into other proactive endeavours.
Working with the Squamish Nation to envision the future of the Village of Sen̓áḵw over the past 13 years has been a rewarding learning experience for me personally, for Kasian and many team members who have engaged in the project over the years. Sen̓áḵw is transformative and demonstrates the strong will, determination and resiliency of the Sqamish community.”
Beginning in 2008, our team held a series of visioning sessions to uncover an intricate understanding of the site and its relationship to Squamish culture. We wanted to see the site through their eyes, and be able to capture their feelings, motivations and perspectives. Through our approach, we built a deep respect for the Squamish Nation’s intimate knowledge of the land — its nature, its offerings, its inhabitants. And we came to admire the resilience of their character — time and time again, they have responded to severe social challenges.
The Nation knew that Sen̓áḵw was a significant opportunity, and our team viewed it as our responsibility to help them fully explore the architectural potential of their site. We wanted to make them aware of the possibilities — then, work with the Squamish to realize them.
After building meaningful relationships with members of the Squamish Nation and achieving a project vision that aligned to their intentions, our team explored and developed many master plan options. One of the specific achievements that the Nation wanted to include in the master plan was density: given that Indigenous groups are not bound by local building codes on their land, the project allowed them to build tall residential towers. This strategy maximized the Squamish’s investment because every single residential unit was an opportunity to invest in the success of future generations. Given the potential of significant density and scale, we introduced the Squamish Nation to Westbank Projects Corp who ultimately partnered with the Nation and their development group, Nch’kay.
Upon completion of an engaging master plan process, the Squamish community voted 87% in favour of a preferred master plan and Land Designation. This became the basis for the Design Architect, Revery, to develop the current design for Sen̓áḵw Village. As the Architect of Record, and with the support of Revery, Kasian will follow through to implement and deliver the completed project
Ultimately, Sen̓áḵw has helped to define a future foundation for the Squamish Nation by creating a 21st century example of Indigenous achievement. Sen̓áḵw is the largest First Nations development project in Canadian history and is also an exemplar of sustainability: Sen̓áḵw features its own District Energy system and is the largest Net Zero Carbon residential project in the country. The project also presents job opportunities to Squamish community members in design, construction and operations.
For Squamish elders, the past is the foundation for the future, and Sen̓áḵw has cemented the future economic stability of the Squamish by empowering them to continue to nurture their identity. Currently, the Nation and the Kasian team are furthering their relationship by designing a community development on the Squamish Nation’s Capilano Reserve — proactively re-investing the successes of Sen̓áḵw into the Squamish Nation’s long-term health.
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