New Illusuak Cultural Centre a landmark for years to come

Bird Construction is the general contractor for the new Illusuak Cultural Centre.

As Originally Seen in the Daily Commercial News :

The Illusuak Cultural Centre taking shape in the northern Labrador community of Nain on Unity Bay will be one of the region's most prominent landmarks for years to come.

The Illusuak Cultural Centre is perched four feet above grade on a system of friction piles extending 20 metres below grade. Skylights and solar panels will be placed on the roof for water heating. The $15-million project is funded under a tripartite agreement between the Nunatsiavut, federal and provincial governments.

"It is a unique design that doesn't look like any other building that's up there," explains Charlie Henley, the lead architect for Stantec Architecture, which is the prime consultant on the job.

The design is inspired by ancient Inuit igloo-type structures built in clusters, with the curvilinear form of the 12,000-square-foot cultural centre consisting of three intersecting circular structures.

It will be clad in a pre-finished wood product from Norway selected for esthetics and durability, notes Henley.

Specifying durable materials for the building was a priority. It was important to provide a low-maintenance building in part because of the difficulty and high cost of transporting replacement materials from the south. Unity Bay is not easily accessible for the transport of materials during the long winters, Henley points out.

Material selection was also based on products that could be easily maintained and repaired by local labour, he adds.

The design architect for the centre is Saunders Architecture of Norway, which has gained an international reputation for prominent buildings on both sides of the Atlantic. The firm is headed up by Todd Saunders.

"The design concepts that Todd came up with are really clean and simple," says Henley.

Still, sometimes what looks simple is anything but easy to build and engineer.

The centre's foundation is a case in point. The wood frame building is supported on a steel frame, perched about four feet above grade on a system of friction piles extending about 20 metres below grade.

While many buildings in the north are supported on piles, the cultural centre's foundation has been complex to engineer and expensive to build, but it was paramount to raise the building above grade and leave the base open to the weather to preserve the integrity of the permafrost.

A heated crawlspace could have caused the permafrost to thaw, resulting in building settlement problems, says Henley.

The site itself — on the community's beach on Unity Bay — was built up with additional soil and a breakwater constructed to minimize the chance of flooding, resulting from rising sea levels due to global warming, he says.

Sections of the one-storey structure are up to 20 feet high with a roof of varying slopes to allow moisture run-off. The TPO (thermoplastic polyolefin) single ply white reflective membrane is easy to maintain and repair, says Henley. Skylights and solar panels for domestic water heating will also be atop the roof.

To keep the building warm in the cold climate, the building is "superinsulated" with both exterior and interior insulation. Along with rigid foam exterior insulation, the structure has an eight-inch stud wall cavity packed with insulation. An interior two-by-three-inch wall houses mechanical and electrical systems, says Henley.

All the long vertical windows are triple glazed and designed to open on the top and bottom to allow for natural ventilation.

Radiant floor heating in a four-inch concrete slab cost more upfront than other heating systems but has a quick payback through low operating costs, Henley says.

The cultural centre's cost is $15 million. Funding is under a tripartite agreement between the Nunatsiavut, federal and provincial governments.

It will house interactive and static exhibits and a performing arts theatre with retractable seating to allow for meetings. The facility will also have a café, gift shop and a Parks Canada office.

Nunatsiavut Minister of Culture Recreation and Tourism Sean Lyall says the idea for the cultural centre came about five years ago when the government saw a need to preserve and promote the identity and heritage of Labrador Inuit.

"We want Inuit people to walk into this building and say, 'wow, what a building. This is who we are,'" Lyall says.

But he sees the building also as a draw for tourists from the region and beyond.

"This definitely will be a showcase, not only for the province but Canada as well."

The building shell was recently closed in and the final phase of construction is expected to be complete in time for an opening in 2017, says Lyall, adding the project is on schedule and within budget.

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