Seneca Nation of Indians, Seneca Arts & Learning Center

“The overall idea is to create a centralized, multi-generational Seneca learning center… including not just indoor [spaces] but outdoors.”

– Michael Kimelberg, chief planning officer for the Nation

Seneca Arts & Learning Center (SALC), Seneca Nations Western Territory near Salamanca, New York

Design Partner: JCJ Architects

Budget for Sitework:$350,000

Completed Fall of 2015

The heart of the Seneca Creation Story is interwoven with the daily life of the children and families at the Seneca Arts and Learning Center. This courtyard becomes a living story of traditional Seneca life, providing opportunities for families young and old to play and learn alongside their heritage, in a beautiful outdoor space. The important symbol of the feather becomes the organizing element in this long linear play space. The western side of the feather, through rolling hills and the white flowering tree planted in the center becomes a living representation of the Sky World, the center of the creation story. The Eastern side becomes the Earth, with play and learning opportunities rooted in water play, sand play and interactive gardens. The animals of the eight Seneca Clans leap from family crests to honored animals in the courtyard, with their tracks hidden in the micro environments where one would expect to find them.

Play here is rooted in nature, with spaces for music and dance, and where story and history are ever present.

Seneca life and history is rooted in its forest, its streams, and in the land and animals around them. By creating a play scape that included water, plants, logs, boulders, rolling hills and gardening areas, we created a dynamic landscape for learning and exploring in a way that seeks to emulates traditional Seneca Life.

The building that surrounds the courtyard seems to fall away, with children’s activities spilling beyond the edge of the building and into the forested area at the rear of the property. Manufactured play equipment, planted crawl tunnels and a music area complete this dynamic play scape.

The natural boulders are from the surrounding area and were selected to showcase local geology and fossils. The “Puddle Play” area features a sculpture of a turtle native to New York, and uses area drains and valves to create shallow water play. The stumps and logs found throughout the courtyard were brought in Seneca Territory forests. All new plantings on the project comply with the Seneca Nation’s policy of using only native plants.