Empowering Indigenous Youth

Lemay executes careful attention to cultural detail for USAY youth centre
Thursday, May 18, 2023

A new youth centre for the Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth (USAY) is becoming a reality in Calgary’s Forest Lawn neighbourhood. It represents a significant milestone in USAY’s 15-year journey of empowering Indigenous youth.

Scheduled for completion by March 2024, the Indigenous-led initiative, in collaboration with Lemay, aims to create a space that fosters accessibility, safety, cultural relevance, and efficiency.

With careful attention to cultural detail in its interior design and architecture, its form complements its purpose as a place of belonging and personal development for the thousands of Indigenous youth USAY supports between the ages of 12 and 29.

“USAY is thrilled to announce the construction of our new building, which will serve as a safe and supportive space in Calgary where we can empower Indigenous youth with the resources and support they need to succeed,” says LeeAnne Ireland, executive director of USAY. “With this new building, we will be able to expand our programming and reach even more young people in the community. We believe that this project will have a significant and positive impact on the lives of Indigenous youth in Calgary, and we are excited to see the difference it will make.”

At nearly 5,000 square feet, the structure provides for Calgary’s urban Indigenous youth through three primary spaces found across two floors: The main floor combines a primary programming space for communal gathering and eating aligned with the Indigenous worldview of feasting, and is capable of supporting youths identifying as non-binary, which connects to a multipurpose Maker’s Space for USAY’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) programming, learning opportunities, and cultural exchange for youth.

The second floor will feature staff offices, partnership meetings, and overflow areas for youth skill-building, practicums, and employment opportunities. This leads out to a rooftop garden equipped for traditional medicines and teachings alongside communal seating that will allow for smudging, constellation teachings with Elders, self-care, and other activities under its pergola. Adjacent to the building is a 6,400 square foot outdoor lot that can host anything from sports to markets, food handouts, employment fairs, drum circles, and more.

“Lemay’s practice model is set up to create open dialogues and take time to create space for understanding, and USAY’s youth centre demonstrates the weight we place on meaningful, participatory approaches to co-designing space for communities,” explains Grace Coulter Sherlock, regional director of Lemay’s Western Canada office and design director for USAY’s youth centre. “That’s how we could best create a place that’s as safe as it is essential.”

Lemay’s planning and design addresses the organization’s daily and long-term needs. Each of the youth centre’s spaces are made to be both distinct and permeable between one another, with barrier-free entries and hallways mediated by wood and translucent polycarbonate panels to create a sense of both togetherness and privacy.

Designed to achieve a sustainable balance, the USAY youth centre uses passive strategies such as solar gain and holistic elements of biophilia and natural lighting to enhance its site’s natural materials of wood and plant life, as well as rooftop space for the future integration of solar panels to reduce operational costs through energy efficiency.

While USAY has received $3,920,000 in funding from the Government of Canada, they are actively seeking donations to complete the project. With 90 per cent of the funding secured, the organization aims to raise an additional $500,000 to fully realize their vision.


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