Architecture students design new Santee Sioux Nation center

· 5 min read

Architecture students design new Santee Sioux Nation center

This artist rendering shows the exterior of the planned Santee Sioux Nation Family Resource Center in Niobrara.
This artist rendering shows the exterior of the planned Santee Sioux Nation Family Resource Center in Niobrara.

Master students in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s College of Architecture are helping the Santee Sioux Nation Family Resource Center become a reality.

After years of planning, consultation and design, ground will be broken at the new center at 2 p.m. Jan. 10 on the Santee Sioux Nation Reservation at the corner of Wounded Man Avenue and Visiting Eagle Street in Niobrara. The estimated completion date is fall 2019. The 950-square-foot facility will include a Child Advocacy Center and a Services and Support Center for residents and members of the Santee Sioux Nation. The center will have rooms for private interviews, observations and examinations, and a large room and kitchen for family reunions.

Work on the facility began in late 2015 as a collaboration between the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, Santee Sioux Tribal Council and PLAIN 2015-16 design research studio, instructed by Jason Griffiths, associate professor of architecture at Nebraska. In spring 2016, Griffiths and design-build master students created the concept designs and assisted with construction documents for the project in consultation with the tribal council and foundation.

With the concepts in hand, this allowed the design team to raise funds and begin negotiations with construction professionals.

“Over the next year, I was able to maintain enthusiasm and develop details of the project through other classes,” Griffiths said. “These efforts paid off through material donations of brick by Glen-Gery Brick and the International Masonry Institute, windows from Acadia, cross-laminated timber wall cost deductions from Structurlam and in-kind donations of services from engineers Shaffer and Stevens.”

With commitments and financials in place, the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation appointed Jeffrey L. Day, Actual Architecture founder and architecture professor at Nebraska, as the architect of record for the final stages of the project. The work included preparing construction documents, construction contract administration and collaborating with Griffiths, the PLAIN studio and contractor Woody Roberts Construction.

“The Santee Sioux Nation Family Resource Center is a fine example of how the College of Architecture can bring a meaningful change for Nebraskans who live in challenging situations,” Griffiths said. “Teaching architecture through ‘design-build’ presents a unique opportunity to provide quality buildings for people who would not normally have the benefit of our profession.”

A facility located in a remote, rural Nebraska community under federal jurisdiction, with the confines of a tight budget, presents many challenges that would exclude most working architects. However, those difficulties allow College of Architecture students unique learning experiences in design-build education, Griffiths said.

The resource center will be the first fully conditioned, cross-laminated timber building in the Great Plains region.

“The process is long and often appears to move slowly but it also provides a true test of the patience and broad, creative thinking needed to make a good building,” Griffiths said. “Through design-build, students learn to apply their knowledge to ‘real world’ situations while maintaining a high quality of architecture.”

Griffiths said the family resource center is a great example of architectural work that elevates ordinary building forms through careful consideration of spatial arrangements.

“It illustrates how the functional aspects of a building can develop into a symbolic architectural language,” he said. “In this case, the message lies in the eloquent arrangement of two squares that are linked together in the corners, a symbol for uniting people whose lives have been disrupted by difficult circumstances. From the exterior, the building appears unremarkable. Its double gables convey the plan arrangement in two simple facades, each with a square window. However this simplicity is a pretext for a message of stability that we want the project to convey.”

Through careful consideration and input from stakeholders’ consultations, the students created a facility that was cognizant of the environmental situations surrounding the building’s occupants.

“Children and families coming to this building do so in difficult emotional circumstances. We hope that an unassuming building would help mitigate fear and anxiety wherever possible,” Griffiths said. “To provide privacy, windows selected for the facade that look into examination rooms are partly obscured with a Contra Vision, one-way screen, brick pattern, while the larger windows that open to the gathering spaces invite the kind of reconciliation that we hope the building will help achieve.”

Additionally, the resource center will be the first fully conditioned, cross-laminated timber building in the Great Plains region. The design is an emerging form of construction that offers an alternative to concrete and steel. It provides a clean, fast-track assembly system with the benefits of carbon sequestration.

“These CLT advantages add to a profound sense of warmth and stability on the interior. The wall and roof panels, produced from solid four-foot thick Douglas fir, provide a natural finish with a palpable sense of solidity that is rare in contemporary architecture,” Griffiths said. “Once completed, the Santee Sioux Nation Family Resource Center will become a showcase for advanced forms of engineered lumber construction and will demonstrate how the College of Architecture is promoting new, innovative forms of architecture to the next generation of architects.”

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