Human-Centered Design

TAWAW works with community members, advisory groups, knowledge brokers and Elders to create the building blocks for human-centered design. We produce Design and Develpment Guidelines which include Vision, Foundational Values, Indigenous Design Principles, and Design Applications. Values Describe foundational values that will help to unify a development. Principles are designed to be non-prescriptive, flexible and outcome-based. Design Application provide a pathway for developers, architects and engineers to engage both the vision and values in a meaningful way

A sample of values, principles and applications are provided below.

Foundational Values

Honor Legacy

This foundational value ensures the Indigenous people are secure, recognized, and respected in their homelands (urban, reserve or reservation), and that the history within the land is understood.

Plan for the Next Generation

Planning and design should be forward thinking, planning for seven generations into the future while embedding narratives from local youth, who act as ambassadors for the future.

Plan for Collective Decision Making

Consultant teams should retain local design advisors over the project length who are equipped to translate local cultural narratives into the design and site and who can uplift decision-making norms in the home territory.

Embrace Land Stewardship

Indigenous earth-based land ethics guide planning and management of lands, uplifting the spiritual relationship with lands, waters, territories, and resources ensuring protection of the land for future generations.

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Indigenous Design Principles

Capture Local Expression


Local Culture is captured and expressed in a meaningful way in the design and development.

Sample Potential Application:

- Using Indigeneous local language(s) on wayfinding, naming and signage (exterior and room).

- Engage local artisans and craftspeople to co-create cultural elements that are built into the landscape and architecture.

Embrace Land-Based Value


Development prioritizes protection of local ecologies including water bodies, trees and vegetation.

Sample Potential Application:

- Create and connect ecological corridors including animal migration routes, wildlife passage, birds, and wetland species.

- Preserve natural areas, particularly those with abundant natural resources including medicines, those sites used for ceremony and sacred sites.

Indigenous Building Design Guidelines

Archetype Teachings

Diagramatic illustrations on local precedents offer critical lessons including Materiality, Spatial Organization, Tectonics and Symbols

Natural Harmony

Immersive nature-driven designs (ie biophilic, zoomorphic) help to build connections to the natural world. Aligning with celestial forces, incorporating views to the outside and creating gardens are strategies deployed for alignment..

Artifact + Craft

All artifacts and craft traditions - including regalia, crafts, artwork and jewerly - can be studied for inspiration and application. Ensure patterns and symbols are not family-owned or sacred. Local artists are welcomed to contribute

Aesthetic Preference

The design style or intent of individual buildings can form more traditional to contemporary, depending on the project type or groups’ intent. Assumptions should be vetted with local advisors, and final control of design direction should be with the community.


Honorary Fellow

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada is proud to announce that Wanda Dalla Costa, a prominent Indigenous voice and practitioner in North American architecture, has been awarded honorary fellowship for 2022. Wanda Dalla Costa is a member of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation and was the first First Nation woman to become an architect in Canada. Her firm, Tawaw Architecture Collective, is based in Phoenix, Arizona. She is the director and founder of Arizona State University’s Indigenous Design Collaborative, a community-driven design and construction program that brings together tribal community members, industry and multidisciplinary teams of university students and faculty to co-design and co-develop solutions for tribal communities. Dalla Costa is a prominent Indigenous female voice within the architectural profession–specifically within the academic sphere in North America.

YBCA's 100 Honorees: Wanda Dalla Costa

Indigenous Design Collaborative's founder and design director Wanda Dalla Costa was recognized as YBCA 100 list of change makers and cultural activists working at the intersection of art, social change and civic life.

Trailblazer Award: Wanda Dalla Costa

Presented this year as part of NZ20, the world's largest net zero conference and expo, the Trailblazer Awards celebrate leaders who are building a net zero future through their work in the carbon, energy, water, waste, transit and/or policy sectors.

St. Lawrence Center Competition Award 2023


Jeff Harnar Award
Unbuilt Architecture 2021