June 19, 2020

Class of 2020: Grad brings life experiences to Indigenous architecture in Canada

Danny Roy’s vision: Incorporate a community's voices, values, and history in design

Growing up in a small Métis community in northern Saskatchewan, Île-à-la-Crosse, Danny Roy was always interested in architecture. His “roundabout journey” into architecture started with studying regional and urban planning in his home province before coming to Calgary to take a master's at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL) at the University of Calgary.

His undergraduate studies and previous work as a planner gave him a deep appreciation for community engagement and gathering people together to discuss their vision for a project. “But there was always still that passion for architecture,” he says. “I’m blending these two worlds now, which is pretty great.”

Roy’s studies at SAPL took him to the 2018 Venice Biennale, where he helped host visitors at a pavilion about North American Indigenous architecture. “The co-curators wanted Indigenous architecture students to be involved,” he says. “We walked through the pavilion with guests and answered questions related to Indigenous architecture and other general questions.”

  • Above, Danny Roy helps host visitors at the Unceded: Voices of the Land exhibition at the prestigious Venice Biennale in 2018.

He also spent an “eye-opening” semester in Tokyo learning different perspectives of space and architecture. And closer to home, Roy helped faculty members and local architects research Taza, a master plan for the TsuuT’ina Nation. “It was gathering background research, understanding the community history and packaging that into reports.”

Understanding Indigenous values vital to design

Now, Roy is planning to fold all of his experiences together into practising Indigenous architecture. “It's such a broad perspective of what it is,” he says. “But really, it's about designing with communities, understanding local Indigenous cultures, ensuring you're incorporating the values and the history, the voices, in the designs.

Within the last few decades, we're seeing this new vision of what Indigenous architecture is about. And that's pretty exciting to me.

Roy hopes to bring his work to Indigenous communities across Canada — all of which have different views, histories and challenges. “Sometimes when you lump Indigenous architecture together, it’s easy to lose focus of all the differences. But it's really understanding those different regional differences in Indigenous architecture and what Indigenous architecture means to someone in Ontario to Saskatchewan to B.C.”

Conversation with Elders part of 'journey together'

Community engagement activities — from workshops to design charettes to conversation with Elders — collect reams of “local wisdom and knowledge for what is best for them,”  he says. An architect’s role is to use their technical skills to help a community synthesize that wisdom into concepts and proposals that work for the community. 

“You go through this journey together,” he says. “I like this integrated design process.”

Roy is looking forward to getting to work. “Some of my passions lie in understanding Indigenous design from a community perspective and using my skills as a planner to engage with communities, helping communities to design better for themselves, whether or not designing for back in my hometown, or my home area, or other Indigenous communities across Canada. Really, I'm quite excited for that.”