Is campus even more interesting than you think?
When construction started in January 1962, NAIT was intended to be modern and exciting, yet practical. It was designed according to the modernist style of the day: clean lines, virtually no decoration, with function reflected in form.
The result, as described in Capital Modern: A guide to Edmonton Architecture and Urban Design 1940-1969, is a “grid-like pattern of the buildings, separated by streets and landscaped courtyards and the low-rise nature of … concrete frames clad in brick and glass.”
That is, it was laid out like a city unto itself. It’s grown since then (doubling in size with more recent additions such as the Centre for Applied Technology and the Productivity and Innovation Centre), but NAIT never lost that urban feeling. As always, there’s work going on and things being accomplished. Just like a city, however, there are sights to see along the way.
They’re worth seeking out. Here, we offer a tour of parts of the NAIT “grid” that not everyone tends to see, pausing to point out where practical meets pretty. After all, what’s a city without a little decoration?
1. NAIT logo mosaic
While revisiting her work in summer 2019, Shiela Hardy looked up at the mosaic she made more than 50 years ago and said, “I thought after all these years they would have taken it down.”
How could we? Not only does it proudly preserve NAIT’s original logo, it was made of more than 250,000 tiles. It’s a work of art and a piece of history – a lot of pieces of history. Check it out at the east end of E-wing.
2. Technology mosaic
Think 250,000 tiles is something? How about nearly 500,000? NAIT’s other mural resides in the courtyard just off the north lobby. Designed by renowned mural-maker Count Alexander von Svoboda of Toronto, the 20-metre-long artwork was recently restored to bring back the sheen it bore when installed in time for NAIT’s official opening in 1963.
“The design is meant to convey … the different phases of student instruction areas within the Institute,” explained the program distributed that day. Look for lab glassware, a car, math formulas and “electronics devices” that, endearingly, are not smartphones.
3. Aboriginal culture
The display case outside the Nîsôhkamâtotân Centre is a window into the diversity within the Aboriginal student body at NAIT. Among the roughly 20 pieces are a woolen Métis sash, beaded moccasins, an ookpik made in the Inuit tradition from sealskin, and much more. Two items in particular stand out for Derek Thunder, Aboriginal liaison services manager.
The first is the poster featuring the centre’s student role models for the year. The second is the model of the tipi. Each pole, peg and even the canvas represents a teaching, says Thunder. Who are those people? What are the teachings? These aren’t explained in the catalogue describing the case’s contents. Instead, Thunder hopes to both encourage visitors to drop in and to meet staff and students and learn more about what makes the symbols in the corridor special. “If you have questions about who we are,” he says, “come into the centre.”
4. Two-metre-tall welded ook
Situated at the top floor of the Main Campus tower (completed in 1965), this two-metre-tall owl keeps watch outside the offices of the NAIT executive team. It’s a take on the polytechnic’s mascot, the ookpik, and the product of 150 hours of work by alum Paulo Ferreira (Welder '05) and Leah Applejohn (Welder '09), who painstakingly welded together 357 individual steel feathers. At 140-kilograms, however, this bird is hardly as light as one.
5. Woodworkers’ nook
At the far north end of Main Campus is another example of the creativity of the trades. Here, the Millwork and Carpentry, Cabinetmaker and Carpenter programs keep a display case stocked with the output of their talents and skills. Past installations have featured fine furniture and ornate, handmade tools such as wood planes. Currently, the case contains massive replicas of tools such as screwdrivers and chisels. Watch for it to be fixed up throughout the school year with new additions.
6. Art at Ernest’s
In 2016, NAIT’s on-campus fine-dining restaurant received what might be considered a missing ingredient. The blank canvas of one of its walls is now filled with a custom-made collection of pieces forged by a local blacksmith and NAIT Continuing Education instructor. Featuring a cleaver, wine glass, chef’s hat and even a student parchment, it’s meant to capture the culinary education experience at NAIT, including meat cutting, hospitality and cooking. Enjoy from a distance – that cleaver looks real enough to have an edge on it.
7. Wings on a wall
Commissioned by the NAIT Students’ Association and painted over 20 hours in February 2019 by Tyler Hochhalter, these wings on a wall of the Centre for Applied Technology have become a social media go-to for students. Posting pics of their winged selves on Instagram (tagged #NAIT or #ookslife) has become “a way of building community online,” says NAIT digital communications specialist Liz Pittman. That is, the art lets birds of a feather get together.
Take a walk
There are a lot more than seven stories in the NAIT city. The best way to find more is to walk the grid: stroll the streets, pause in the courtyards, survey the lengths of the polytechnic’s concrete frames.
Courtesy of Curtis Dell, NAIT’s student recreation coordinator, here are two maps to help you on your way: