Read Time: 5.5 minutes
When the Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute relocated their office, the consortium of Ekistics Planning & Design and Form:Media (Halifax, Nova Scotia) helped create a welcoming environment that speaks directly to the organization’s African heritage.
Delmore Daye, known as “Buddy,” was a well-known and well-loved figure in Halifax’s African Nova Scotian community until his death in 1995. In his youth, he was a boxing champion, but later transitioned to a life of public service as he saw a profound need in the Halifax community. Daye served his community as: Manager of Province House, Director of the Black United Front, as the first African Nova Scotian to hold the post of Sergeant-at-Arms and by helping to form the city’s Neighbourhood Centre—in addition to contributing as a member of many other local groups.
The Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute is a not-for-profit organization, which carries on the legacy of Daye through generating scholastic opportunities and addressing educational equity gaps for communities of African ancestry in Nova Scotia. The Africentric institute works directly with other African Nova Scotian/Canadian organizations, policymakers, educators, parents and schools to support a mission of providing sustainable lifelong learning, community engagement and providing knowledge resource management to improve outcomes for local learners of African descent.
When DBDLI purchased the brutalist style former Construction Association of Nova Scotia headquarters building, they knew substantial renovation would be needed to create a unique, airy, light-filled and contemporary work space—in stark contrast to their current non-descript office and the newly purchased space, which was segmented and dark. The timeline for design was a tight six months when the client team decided to work with the local award-winning design consortium of Ekistics Planning & Design and Form:Media.
The non-disciplinary Ekistics/Form:Media approach often nets deeply meaningful representations in interpretive spaces and built environments through the use of a central idea or lens. The design team begins by shedding their specific design titles—architect, interior or graphic designer—to reach the essence of the project as a group and form a core idea. Once the core idea is determined, all design decisions are informed by it.
“I think our team finds it difficult just to design space,” muses John deWolf, vice president of Form:Media. “We’re always seeking that added layer of meaning and depth—connecting cultural, historical, or symbolic references.” Chris Crawford, director of architecture at Ekistics Planning and Design, adds that this method is fundamentally ingrained in the way they work and can be surprising to clients at first, “but once they understand how their space will represent [their organization] in a deeper way, the calculus of a project has changed.”
The approach lent itself perfectly to working with a not-for-profit organization with such a noteworthy purpose and rich cultural context. The design team began by recognizing that a critical part of what DBDLI does is collect and disseminate information related to African ancestry in Nova Scotia. Then, the team asked themselves, “How can we best create a space that helps facilitate DBDLI’s mission and helps them that their story?” The next step was research.
The strongest concept that emerged from that process centered on adinkra symbols, which are visual representations of ideas or aphorisms that originated in the Ashanti kingdom in what is Ghana today. The symbols are ubiquitous there; adinkras are carved from a block of calabash or wood, often used with black vegetable dye to create a printed series that form a story on cloth.
The idea of these symbols being used to tell a story and having established meanings in an African culture was key to the design team: Metaphorically, both DBDLI and adinkra prints are a facilitator through which cultural stories and important knowledge can be conveyed. “This notion resonated with the clients, so our job then was to figure out how that might materialize in space on the macro and micro level,” says deWolf. “From architecture to signage, from material to finish, the adinkra woodcuts and storytelling cloth informed our designs.”
On a larger level, the individual offices seem to have been carved like a woodblock, with blackened exteriors and natural wood interior finishes, forming a series that delineate areas. The design also provides flexible work area; a movable partition allows a large community space to split into a boardroom and a classroom. In addition, the office includes a gallery for the display of contemporary African Nova Scotian artwork.
At a smaller scale, multiple stacked inked blocks make up walls: some adorned, some not. Simple black-vinyl linework, evocative of screen printing and handmade cloth, provides safety and privacy screening on glass. Oak Akan goldweight-derived patterns form the front of the entry desk and a drop ceiling that cleverly conceals mechanical systems, providing sound diffusion while communicating a message of a prosperous future.
Black, natural wood and white are the basis of the project’s palette, along with hints of red and yellow that reference its African roots. Brass metalwork makes an appearance on door identification, lighting and in desk surfaces. Even the gray carpet tiles are reminiscent of wood grain, effecting the visual narrative.
The design team collaborated closely with the DBDLI staff to choose appropriate adinkra symbols that would represent the organization, and each of them personally within the space. For example, each director would have their chosen wooden symbol installed adjacent to their nameplate on the glass wall of their office, made to be removable so if they move offices, they can take it along. The team then hired an illustrator, Kwesi Amuti, to redraw the traditional adinkra symbols so they would have the quality of coming from a single artistic hand, while maintaining their cultural integrity.
The new DBDLI offices were completed in July and opened in September of 2018 to a very happy client group, who were delighted by the quality of light in the newly open floorplan and glass-enclosed offices and the striking look and deeper significance of the experiential graphic design throughout. For the Ekistics and Form:Media team, they were very pleased by the outcome, but more pleased to be able to create something meaningful “for an organization that does such amazing work.”
Since the new DBDLI offices have opened, the client and design teams have already started conversation about an expansion, and the project has won the Best in Show Award from the Sign Association of Canada.
Project Name: Office and Learning Space
Client: Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute
Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Open Date: July 2018
Project Area: 4,500 sq ft
Project budget: $15,231
Overall Budget: $761,550
Architect: Ekistics Planning & Design
Experiential Graphic Design: Form:Media
Design Team: Chris Crawford (project architect), Rebecca McKenzie (intern architect), Abbey Smith (intern architect), John deWolf (placemaking and signage), Robert Currie (project coordination)
Collaborators: Kwesi Amuti (symbol design), Avondale Construction Limited (general contractor), Rodney Enterprise (millwork), Eye Candy (signage)
Photography/Videography: Julian Parkinson