Those of us in Amiskwaciy Waskahikan (Edmonton) may be familiar with the work of Vivian Manasc whether we know it or not. You’ll find it all around the city, including at The Hallway Café, Allard Hall and WSP Place. As one of the co-founders of Manasc Isaac architectural and engineering studio, Manasc has designed and advocated for sustainable and green buildings for more than 30 years. Working with Indigenous communities is integral to her main-stream architectural work, and telling the stories that inform this work was her motivation for writing a second book.
“I think it’s really important to recognize that new Canadians — whether we are settlers who grew up in Canada, or whether we immigrated to Canada — have lots to learn from our Indigenous communities,” Manasc says. “There is a lot to learn about ways of living, planning, dreaming and visioning together so that we can co-create healthy, sustainable, regenerative communities that are good for everybody.”
Manasc says her interest in sustainable architecture started when she was a student, prompted by the 1970s energy crisis. How to achieve that sustainability was informed by teachings from Indigenous communities. “[Manasc Isaac’s] work with our Indigenous partners on many projects over the years helped us to develop a methodology that is collaborative and integrated, and the heart of sustainable design is that you have to bring together many different ways of looking at a challenge,” Manasc says. Old Stories, New Ways uses an Indigenous story-telling framework, Seven Grandfather Teachings, to explore the lessons that have influenced her architectural and design work.
Even though the book is ostensibly about a specialist topic, it is approachable and accessible for a general audience. It is not a book about buildings and technical processes; it is about community and reconciliation as much as it’s about architecture. “It’s really a book about ways of doing things, and ways of engaging community to co-create a future,” Manasc says.
To write the book, Manasc and editor Frits Pannekoek engaged architects, colleagues and business partners to recall stories and ideas from various projects. “It was really important to me to bring in the voices of many people, especially Diana Steinhauer [president of Yellowhead Tribal College] who wrote the foreword to the book,” Manasc says.
“She introduced me to a lot of the stories, and a lot of the ways of interpreting those stories, that have informed the work that I have been doing. Architecture is really a journey of discovery. When you start out, you don’t really know what the facility is going to be, and then you work through a process of exploration to discover what it needs to be, and then enable people to build that dream.”
While the book uses examples of many of Manasc’s projects, it is not a comprehensive catalogue of work. “The book is really about how Indigenous ways of knowing, specifically how the Grandfather Teachings have informed our ways of thinking about the process of design,” Manasc says.
“You need to draw on the wisdom of the world of architecture, and the world of construction, to know how to put a building together so it can be built intelligently and safely and collaboratively. But you also need courage at the beginning of the project, you need to collaborate and to engage the community to dream together, and you need love along the way.”
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This article appears in the June 2021 issue of Edify.