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November 21, 2013

A home away from home for Native American students

  • UW’s Intellectual House will be a center for native history and culture.
    Jones & Jones


    Many generations before it became home to a major state university, the University of Washington’s Seattle campus was surrounded by Duwamish Tribe cultural sites. Today, you would never know this from the style of the campus and its buildings. But this will soon change.

    Last month, elders and members from 30-plus Washington state tribes, Native American students and faculty gathered with university officials to break ground on a $3 million modern cedar longhouse on the UW campus.

    The project will be called the Intellectual House, a translation of a Lushootseed language name given by the late Vi Hilbert, a linguist and elder in the Upper Skagit Tribe. The longhouse will be the first of two buildings and associated outdoor gathering spaces that will establish a foundation for Native Americans at UW.

    A dream realized

    Native American leaders have advocated for building a longhouse on the UW campus since the 1970s. They dreamed of a place that would provide a “home away from home” for native students, celebrate their history and culture, and teach others about historic and contemporary native life.

    Image courtesy of Jones & Jones [enlarge]
    The $3 million longhouse will hold a large gathering hall, a smaller meeting space and a kitchen for preparing traditional foods.

    Over the past several years, the dream has materialized. In 2009, with an initial appropriation of $1.5 million from the state, the university selected our firm to design the facility. We were chosen because of our long history of working with Northwest tribes on projects inspired by their memories, ways and beliefs, our understanding of the Coast Salish longhouse form, and our experience designing cultural education facilities on academic campuses. Other native campus centers designed by our firm have been built at Evergreen State University, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University.

    Our pre-design supported a fundraising campaign that yielded financial support from the university, the state of Washington, 12 tribal nations and many private donors. From there, we have gone on to complete the final design.

    The design of the Intellectual House springs from the longhouse-style traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest. The design intent was to create a Coast Salish longhouse environment that sustains the indigenous traditions of welcoming, learning, sharing and community.

    The phase one, 8,500-square-foot Community Gathering Building will be constructed largely of cedar in a post-and-beam style. It will house a gathering hall that can seat 500 people, a smaller meeting room and a large kitchen that can also be used to teach people about preparing traditional indigenous foods.

    The Intellectual House site is on the northeast section of the central campus, between Lewis and MacMahon halls. The outdoor site will feature a ceremonial space, cooking area, teaching area, native arts exhibit area, and a drop-off and welcome area. In what will eventually become the center of the entire site, a circular gathering court with seating will accommodate students in between classes and also overflow from special events inside the gathering hall.

    Support for students

    A primary purpose of the Intellectual House is to increase Native American students’ success at UW, preparing them for leadership roles in their tribal communities and the region.

    While the UW has made progress in recruiting Native American students, their retention and graduation rates fall short of those of other student groups, both at UW and at colleges across the country. The Intellectual House will support students’ ability to remain involved in their home tribes and communities through its social and academic programs.

    We also envision that tribal elders and community members will gather together at the Intellectual House for dialogue, storytelling and sharing indigenous knowledge. Ultimately, this is to be a living place that upholds indigenous values and passes them on to future generations.

    Construction of the Community Gathering Building is expected to finish late next year, and it is scheduled to open for programs in early 2015.

    The second phase of the project will include further fundraising for the Teaching and Learning Building. This building will have multipurpose rooms for teaching and learning, an arts lab and elders lounge, as well as student study and lounge areas. Fundraising has just started for construction of this second building.

    Johnpaul Jones is Native American architect of Cherokee-Choctaw descent and a founding partner of Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects. He was the lead design consultant for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

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