In the struggle against the homogenizing forces of an increasingly globalized architectural culture, the particularized interventions of Patkau Architects in the Canadian southwest proffer a means of resistance, grounded in the immediacy of context and the sacrosanctity of nature. Combining local material palettes with a rich tectonic vocabulary that borrows from the diverging currents of modernity and vernacular practice, the firm’s projects are dynamic and eminently sui generis, the results of an inspired pursuit at the nexus of regionalism, technology, and critical theory.
Standing on the outskirts of Victoria, British Columbia, the timber-clad Strawberry Vale Elementary School is emblematic of Patkau Architects’ philosophy. Completed in 1995, the school's situation next to a prominent geological rift, coupled with its loving attention to surrounding indigenous flora, allows the architecture to guide the occupant's focus toward a local natural history that long precedes the Patkaus’ intervention. Broad windows open into outdoor seams within the building, visually and spatially connecting the innermost areas directly to the outdoors. In cultivating this geospatial awareness, the school reflects the architects' concern for the unique characteristics of the land and people affected by the building. This also allows the building to play an active pedagogical role in the school, encouraging the students' engagement with nature and the environment.
Of course, for all Strawberry Vale's ability to divert attention to the site, the dazzling architecture is an inescapably commanding presence. Like the gradual geological forces that helped create Vancouver Island’s rocky outcrops, the architectural tectonics of the school channel an analogous series of dramatic, subductive events. Plates – or in this case, tectonic planes – gently but firmly push against one another, buckling upward to form a mountainous, geomorphic topography. Dynamic and irregular, the roofline disguises in its pitch a timber truss structure, fusing traditional construction techniques and distinctive creative bravado.
The apex of this contour is the segmented circulatory and mechanical spine that meanders across the site, dividing the school into its various functions. The gymnasium, library, administrative offices, and entrance are located to the north of this corridor where the school adjoins the community. To the south side, abutting the woodlands, educational “pods” of four classrooms each branch off from the corridor and spectacularly interpenetrate the site’s natural rocky outcrops. These clusters create small academic communities within the school and the gaps in between allow light to penetrate into the hallway.
Particularly in its interiors, the school is a tectonic treasure trove. Flying beams, truncated planes, and exposed mechanics collide in artful complexity. Surfaces are unadorned but formally intricate, articulated with the naked rawness of a material palette consisting largely of native lumber, metal, and glass. Thoughtfully scaled elements and enclosures create an intimate atmosphere for occupants of all sizes. For the mesmerized students who gather between its jagged walls, the architecture is an unending source of wonder and adventure, playful yet sophisticated in its richness.
The architecture's visual and spatial connections compliment sustainable strategies that both preach and practice a respect for the environment. The orientation of the school maximizes sunlight intake during school hours and allows it to take on passive heat during the cold seasons. Clerestory windows and skylights flood the deepest parts of the interiors with solar energy, which is optimized by reflective interior spaces.  Building materials were carefully selected to reduce embodied energy, primarily by using those that could be found locally. And with particular conscientiousness toward the uniqueness of its site, drainage systems naturally filter excess water with plants and return the clean runoff to the adjacent shallow marsh. 
In a 1996 lecture given in Jerusalem, Patricia Patkau, one of the firm's co-founders, explained how this sensitivity to its local particularities strives to counter contemporary challenges of meaning. "Our practice acknowledges that architecture is part of a complex at once affecting and affected by the world, that it is a part of a dynamic changing condition, and that its measure lies in that relationship... It remains the architect's role to discover alternate ways of 'thinking' construction, establishing relational conditions, tracing an empathetic response to the things we build, rendering architecture a necessary act, one that is essential to the maintenance of cognition and meaning." 
Speaking on the relationship between building and nature, she describes how this approach informs Strawberry Vale's dialogue with the environment: "An important consequence of this attitude is that architecture is not viewed as something distinct from the natural world. Just as the forces of nature act upon building, we, through building amplified by technology, work upon nature."
 Patkau Architects. “Strawberry Vale School.” Last accessed 13 May 2015.
 Patkau, John. “Patkau Architects: Investigations Into the Particular.” Journal of the International Institute, Vol. 3, Iss. 2, Winter 1996. Last accessed 14 July 2015.
 Patkau, Patricia. Lecture. Transcribed in Technology, Place & Architecture: The Jerusalem Seminar in Architecture. Kenneth Frampton, ed. Rizzoli: United States, 1998, pp. 94-111.
Location4109 Rosedale Ave.
Design TeamGrace Cheung, Michael Cunningham, Michael Kothke, Tim Newton, John Patkau, Patricia Patkau, David Shone, Peter Suter, Allan Teramura, John Wall, Jacqueline Wang