November 26, 2019

In Seven Directions for Seven Generations

The Place of Hidden Waters













This Fall, UW Architecture senior lecturer Jim Nicholls and visiting associate professor and Native architect Daniel Glenn are collaborating to teach a graduate level studio focused on architecture’s role in the process of decolonization. The course consists of an in-depth seminar that puts students in direct contact with members of the Native community, and a studio project that explores designing a Native student housing and community space on UW’s campus. 


About the Studio and Seminar: Co-led by Daniel Glenn, an Apsáalooke (Crow) architect specializing in contemporary Indigenous architecture and planning, the studio supports the presence of Native cultures and Indigenous life on campus. A contemporary Native student housing and gathering space will provide a welcoming home and support center for Native students. Multi-generational housing and a resident elder program will foster multi-generational exchange. Studio time will be spent in close consultation with Native Students and Elders to determine the ideal program and campus location. Comprehensive and integrated sustainability strategies will be showcased; mass timber will be utilized for structure. Multiple scales of social gathering spaces will be nurtured and emphasized. Led by Daniel Glenn, an Apsáalooke (Crow) architect specializing in contemporary Indigenous architecture and planning and UW School of Architecture’s Jim Nicholls, the seminar will include guest lectures and local field trips will add depth to history and precedent lectures. Case studies from the region and around the world will be examined. Assignments will encourage personal research into topics relevant to the seminar and the individual student.  

Student Perspective:

Second year graduate student Steven Moehring offers his perspective on the experience of this unique studio. 

How can architecture help indigenous people decolonize?

 Our studio is attempting to answer this very question. The goal is that by designing a building that reflects the indigenous culture of the place we are able to bring the issues to the forefront by highlighting the fact that the indigenous people are still here and are still a part of society. The architecture is meant to act as a way for the indigenous values to re-manifest themselves as a strong and tangible reclamation of the site.       

University Village was built on unceded territory — are there ways by which architecture and design can do anything to redress these wrongs?

I think that the hope is that architecture has the ability to influence the way the land is used and maintained, so that it can become an acknowledgement and application of the traditions and values that were oppressed. Design can be a way for the indigenous people to instruct us in how they want their lands treated.

Does one’s ethnic or cultural background influence design, or is good architecture blind to such individual distinctions?

Design choices are often a manifestation of socio-cultural values. Siting and orientation, material expression, structural order, programmatic layout, etc. all of these big picture design choices can be tied to cultural traditions like cosmological significance, spirituality and social structure. Architecture can not be blind to the way people live or the way society functions because it is an expression of the cultural fabric, plus people need to feel comfortable in it.

How is Seattle, the region by the Salish Sea, the best testing ground for the work being studied and done in this course?

Indigenous architecture is inherently place based. We are at this university, in this place, and working with the stories that this land carries. It just makes the most sense. But Seattle also has a lot of visible (if inaccurate) reminders of the indigenous marks that were made on our history and the people that lived here, like the Duwamish, are still here. They didn’t leave. So, the ties between the past and the present are really strong and that makes the work we are doing resonate better, because the impact is so clear. We aren’t trying to solve contrived problems. These problems are intimately connected to our own context and place.