Cowichan Secondary School render from the outside.

Quw’utsun Secondary School


Traditional territories of the Cowichan Peoples Duncan, BC

Replacing its 1950’s-built predecessor, the new Quw’utsun Secondary School encourages students to learn complex problem solving skills, community values, and Indigenous ways of being. 

When complete, the school will host 1,100 students grade 10-12 (with future expansion capacity to 1,500 students), with a Neighbourhood Learning Centre that hosts innovation and technology, health and wellness, and Indigenous language and culture spaces, along with a Gathering Place. 

Natural flow, natural form

The school’s expansive entry plaza references the waters of the Cowichan and Koksilah River estuary, encouraging students to meander and mingle on their way to class. Abundant seating is inspired by the driftwood that snags along the estuary’s banks, while plants feature the lush riparian trees and shrubs that grow along the estuary’s edges.

As visitors approach the doors at the main entry, they’re invited to see the heart of the building, through the atrium glazing, and out into the landscape beyond.

Inspired by the architecture and craft of the Cowichan Tribes, the school’s form evokes the gently sloping shed roofs of the traditional Quamichan village. The building’s exterior cladding references the scale and tonal variation of a Bighouse’s wood plank walls, while vertical elements of Cowichan fishing weirs inspired the wood elements outside the Gathering Place.

A wooden interior and balcony with students gathering in the centre, watching an indigenous dance.
Respecting nature’s cultural importance

The Cowichan Tribes hold a special reverence for certain tree species: Arbutus (qaanlp) is part of their origin story; Black Cottonwood (tsuw’nulp) has been used for medicinal purposes; and Cedar (xpey’) has been central to construction, handcraft, and spiritual ceremonies.  

These wood types are used throughout the school in different ways—unifying program pods akin to a tree canopy emanating throughout the school. 

The Gathering Place forms part of the in-between space of the school, but with a material treatment that pays tribute to master Cowichan carvers such as Simon Charlie, while differentiating the space to signify its cultural importance.  

The Elders’ Space—prominently located adjacent to the school’s main entry, visible from the school’s social heart—is clad in a darker-toned wood to distinguish it from the building’s more public components.   

Interior staircase with floor to ceiling window.
Canopy entry.
Water as restorative landscape

People living in the Cowichan Watershed have a special relationship with its waters—from the cool, clean Cowichan Lake, to the bubbling flows of the Cowichan River, through to the biodiverse Cowichan Estuary. The Cowichan Tribes have used these resources for physical and spiritual nourishment since time immemorial, while newer Cowichan residents use the water for their livelihoods and recreation.  

Our design for the new school celebrates these various forms of watershed—and the rich ecosystems they support—through form, material inspiration, and spatial layout.

View of indoor balcony with students walking up the staircase.
View of outdoor balconies
Designed for equity and expansion

The new school is configured to allow the future expansion to connect seamlessly—and without disturbing operations. The eight classroom addition consists of the same learning community module as in the current plans. Replicating this plan arrangement provides a familiarity to the organizational layout within each learning community, and equity for all.

The gymnasium, showcasing a piece of indigenous art on the wall.

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