Community Service Scholarship Supports Culturally Specific Design for Portland’s Indigenous Community

By Danáe Sakuma, Project Architect

culturally specific design
Conceptual rendering of Barbie's Village, a planned, Native-specific transitional housing village

Hennebery Eddy’s annual Community Service Scholarship is part of the firm’s larger philanthropic effort, Hennebery Eddy Gives. Here, Danáe shares how she completed her project during the pandemic after receiving the 2020 scholarship.

Through the Community Service Scholarship, I had the opportunity to create a conceptual, culturally specific design for a Native transitional housing village in partnership with the Future Generations Collaborative (FGC). The idea came from my connection with Jillene Joseph, an enrolled member of the Gros Ventre (or Aaniiih) Tribe and the executive director of the Native Wellness Institute. As a Walla Walla descendant myself, I thought Jillene’s idea seemed like the perfect passion project to benefit Portland’s Native community.

The need for this village is clear in light of the lasting impacts of generational trauma in the Native community, which means that Native people are disproportionately affected by houselessness and the foster care system in Portland. Named in memory of Jillene’s friend, former coworker, and enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Barbie’s Village would create a place for culturally specific healing in the community. Several years ago, Barbie passed away unexpectedly, after which her husband and children experienced homelessness and the foster care system. The village would give people like Barbie’s husband an opportunity to heal and regroup within a culturally specific community of Native people who have a shared experiences and values.

Workshop participants shared their design sketches. The critical function of this workshop was to listen first — a core value of our firm and especially important in working with a group whose voices have been historically and systematically ignored.

My scholarship proposal outlined a plan to give the village a general form through design drawings and a report to help secure additional support for the effort. As a first step toward creating a vision for the village, I worked with Jillene to host a virtual workshop with 20+ members of the Portland Native community who have been affected by houselessness, including Barbie’s husband and their daughters. While we had originally hoped to hold the workshop in person, we were still able to create an engaging atmosphere via Zoom. The scholarship fund provided food for the participants (delivered to their homes) and gift cards sent out afterward in acknowledgment of their time and valuable input. The main purpose of the workshop was to listen to a group of people whose voices have been historically and systematically ignored. We received many unique and personal responses, which directly influenced the program and concept design for the village.

Next, we synthesized the input from the various listening and creative exercises into a series of vision statements and a conceptual design. The village concept is guided by the story of a red cedar tree, which is an important Indigenous symbol in the Pacific Northwest. The layers of a cedar’s trunk work together to create a strong and resilient tree that has been known to live over 1,500 years. The cedar’s core provides stability for the rest of the tree. In the village, spiritual and community gathering spaces create this stability at the heart of the site. The next layers of cedar are dedicated to growth, providing water and nutrients to the entire tree. These spaces in the village are the wellness services (for mental nourishment) and the communal garden and kitchen (for physical nourishment). The outer layer of bark creates a safe shelter to protect the tree’s inner growth and stability. In the village, this shelter is established by the dwellings surrounding the perimeter and enclosing the communal spaces.

culturally specific design
Site plan and section perspective

In the conceptual design, the village is envisioned on an imaginary urban or semi-urban site in Portland, approximately 27,300 square feet or 0.6 acres, comparable in size to other transitional villages in the area. The indoor village includes a mix of studio and family sized tiny homes, communal restrooms with showers, and a community building that houses dining and wellness services. The conceptual design of these structures is meant to be both visionary and responsible with the given resources by blending traditional Indigenous forms with modern materials. The site also includes several outdoor features such as a sweat lodge, community garden, nature play area, and walking path with Indigenous landscaping. As part of the visioning effort, our colleagues at DCW Cost Management generously provided a high-level cost plan based on the conceptual design. This helped to create a comprehensive village vision report, which is now being used to fundraise, gain partners, and bring the village closer to reality.

Barbie’s Village conceptual culturally specific design

“The report helped us to gain the attention of so many! County commissioners, folks at Metro, and others are helping us!”

— Jillene Joseph, executive director of the Native Wellness Institute