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    Alaskan Engineering

    by Brian Libby

    The new building for the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) at the University of Alaska in Anchorage is becoming a cultural icon. ANSEP serves many different indigenous cultures, each with different ideas about appropriate symbolism. The building's final form was based on a shared icon arrived at after an interesting, sometimes arduous, journey.

    Until recently, ANSEP was housed in a scattered series of classrooms and offices without any practical or symbolic architectural presence. But long before the design by RIM Architects could be completed, the new ANSEP building faced two familiar hurdles: a small budget and a variety of stakeholders with sometimes competing aims.

    With apprenticeship programs tied to high schools throughout the state, ANSEP serves a variety of indigenous cultures of Eskimo and American Indian descent. "When we first conceived of the building," remembers Dr. Herb Schroeder, associate dean and founder of ANSEP, "the students were adamant that it should somehow be representative of indigenous culture. But we spent lots of time trying to come up with a form that would represent several cultures."

    Seeking Common Ground

    The Anchorage campus is in southern Alaska, traditionally home of the Athabaskan people. But the architects' first conceptual design for the long, thin site took its inspiration from a different regional vernacular: the longhouse of the southeastern Tlingit and Haida peoples.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    The Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program Building, by RIM Architects, on the campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage.
    Photo: Michael Dinneen

    ArchWeek Image

    A traditional Alaskan canoe, the building's inspiration, sits in the center of the dance floor of the building's community gathering area.
    Photo: Michael Dinneen

     

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