A Museum of Anthropology: Eco-Cultural Restoration

18:00 Tuesday 28 May




Alyssa Schwann (Canada) 1

1 - Assistant Professor


The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) in Vancouver, BC, Canada is on unceded territory, the ancestral homeland of the Musqueam Indian Band. MOA comprises the museum building, first completed in 1976, as well as the surrounding designed landscape. Together, the building by architect Arthur Erickson and the landscape design by Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, are considered masterworks that envision a ‘total’ environmental design.

Though regarded as a representative and significant work of its era, its concept had shortcomings. It spoke of a setting inspired by the Haida Nation who inhabit the north-west coast of Canada; in contrast, MOA resides in the south-west of the province, on Musqueam land. The placement of a Haida ‘village’ and other aspects of the museum’s iconography have been controversial, while the Musqueam’s relationship to this place had been largely overlooked„in particular, their living culture.


The Museum was designed to be part of the University of British Columbia campus, integrating teaching and research with state-of-the-art collection management and interpretation. The Museum presents anthropology from diverse regions in North America and the rest of the world, yet it has to a degree, ignored its very own history and setting. A conflict results; reconciliation is needed. The museum is currently planning a third expansion and landscape remediation, presenting the opportunity to address past shortcomings and provide a vision for the museum that honours and celebrates Musqueam culture, principles of place, and diverse knowledges.


Typical design processes consistently omit Indigenous voices. Further, land is often minimised or avoided in design discussions, thereby profoundly undermining Indigenous culture. However, the long relationship that Canada’s Indigenous people have had with land since time immemorial holds the depth for understanding the complexity of the natural environment and its systems as cultural landscapes. In partnership with the Musqueam, the authors are developing an eco-cultural woodland restoration strategy for the Museum, one which aims to balance the living culture of the Musqueam with the recognition that this is a ‘Museum of Anthropology’, representing and interpreting multiple layers of histories and cultures.


The aim of the research and design process is to establish a ‘laboratory’ – a Living Forest – for understanding the evolving environment, a place to share diverse knowledges on the relationship between nature and culture, and to define a model for nation-to-nation stewardship of land. The poster will illustrate the approach.