The 1,200m2 building was commissioned by the Nunatsiavut Government and acts as a “living room for the community,” with an auditorium for language classes, café, a craft shop, studio space, and 75-seat theatre. The building, designed by Saunders Architecture, also provides offices to the Nunatsiavut Government as well as Parks Canada. Designed by Saunders Architecture, Illusuak makes a bold architectural statement using forms and materials derived from the region’s tradition and heritage.
Saunders Architect designed the new building located in Nain, a remote site 200km south of the Torngat Mountains National Park, which is a culturally and ecologically significant wilderness at the very northern tip of Labrador. Commissioned by the Nunatsiavut Government, Illusuak is designed to serve many functional purposes, in addition to creating a strong cultural link with the creative heritage. The inclusion of directly carved surfaces was an integral element as carving—be it soapstone or spruce.
Todd Saunders and his team of architects were tasked with creating a building that represents the historic and living Inuit culture for future generations. In order to engage with local requirements, knowledge, building practices, and materials, the design team spent three weeks living within the Inuit community of Nain. The exterior hand-cut Kebony spruce cladding will weather and age, merging with the Nain landscape. Interior furnishings include timber panelling finished with traditional techniques and stone flooring, with seal skin floor coverings sourced from a nearby community.
Although now largely replaced by more conventional cabins, Illusuak’s curved forms evoke this history, helping create a focal point for the community through a combination of traditional techniques, contemporary forms, and generous spaces that unite and strengthen cultural identity. Initially intended as a gathering space for the community, the scope of the Cultural Centre grew. The architectural approach took the soft organic forms of these temporary seasonal structures, while adding the permanence and solidity demanded by the waterfront site. Construction was undertaken in one of the harshest environments on the planet, above solid permafrost with no main road connections and the Atlantic frozen over for 6 months of the year.