Somba K'e Civic Plaza

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

Photo Credit: CSLA


Research by: Samantha Miller

Edited by: Nicole Brekelmans

Case study compiled in 2019


Project: Somba K'e Civic Plaza

Type of Urban Strategy: Indigenous

Type of ProjectCivic Park Revitalization

LocationYellowknife, Northwest Territories 

Date Designed/Planned: 2008

Construction Completed:  2010

Designer: Nadji Architects & Lombard North Group Ltd. 


Somba K’e Civic Plaza was created in collaboration between Nadji Architects and Lombard North Group Ltd., on the site of a vacant field on the shores of Frame Lake. This project is an excellent representation of urban design that uses social and community engagement in the design process to work towards fulfilling the desires of the affected communities. The new plaza is now used for hundreds of events, through all seasons- giving the community a place to gather and celebrate their culture and progress as a city. The designers were sure to incorporate elements of design inspired by Indigenous history, specifically relevant to the history of the site and the communities who inhabited the land for many years prior. The indigenous inspired design gives the community a strong sense of place to retreat to while the City of Yellowknife continues to grow and move forward. Through the application of sustainable design principles, the designers were able to create a year-round gathering space, that responds to the desires of the community for more sustainable development. The city of Yellowknife’s senior administrators view the new plaza as ‘a jewel in the heart of the city’ (Nadji Architects, 2018).


A master plan for the Somba K’e Civic Plaza was created in collaboration between Nadji Architects and Lombard North Group Ltd., on the site of a vacant field on the shores of Frame Lake. Through the application of sustainable design principles, the designers were able to create a year-round gathering space where visitors and residents can come daily, and can also be used for special events and functions. The city of Yellowknife’s senior administrators view the new plaza as ‘a jewel in the heart of the city’ (Nadji Architects, 2018).


The design for the plaza aimed to develop a place for civic functions on a vacant field that is situated in front of the Yellowknife City Hall in downtown Yellowknife on 49 Avenue. The vacant space is approximately 10,750 sq. ft., located on the shores of Frame Lake, which provided opportunities for lakefront views and waterfront seating. Due to its location to the water, the Somba K’e Park is now a point of entry into the Northwest Territories park system (Nadji Architects, 2018).


Yellowknife is known to be “where the gold is paved with streets,” or Sambaa K’e “the Money Place.” The Yellowknives Dene First Nations have traditionally occupied the region, using it for its abundant fishing and hunting grounds. Yellowknife began to boom after the 1930s gold rush, allowing the city to grow and develop a new downtown. Moving into the 1970s and 19880s, the two major gold mines along the shores closed, impairing the city’s economy until a second boom of diamond mining. The city core was ageing, and social problems became more apparent. The city needed some changes in terms of its urban design to combat the growth and ever-increasing tourism. The diamond mine’s lifespan was declining, and aurora tourism, in particular, emerged as an opportunity for economic growth (City of Yellowknife, 2019). Treaties with indigenous governments began settling, or started the process of settling, bringing forward more opportunities to revitalize the city. The chance for revitalization forced the government to look at the city in a new light, and begin a unique opportunity to redefine the city (City of Yellowknife, 2019). In 2006, the city commissioned a Master Plan for the plaza, with a development phased over three years. They also established a long-term vision for the city’s core, with smart growth principles relating to transportation, land use, urban design and economic development. (City of Yellowknife, 2008). The location of the site was a vacant space, once used as a parking lot for the City Hall, and previously the site of the Gerry Murphy Arena. The location to the water provided an excellent opportunity to take advantage of Aurora tourism, because of the open skyline that gives people a chance to see the extraordinary skies that the city is known for across Canada.


The goals for the project were: -Create a plaza that is suitable for all season use -To incorporate the northern vernacular influences -To create active and passive programmable event spaces -To create better access to the lakefront -To include historical references -To be the location for the display of local and public art, and cultural ceremonies (CSLA, n.d.)


After discussions and feedback from the community about what kind of space the city needs and the desires of the citizens, Lombard North Group partnered with Nadji Architects who were leading the project. The teams then developed a long-term phasing plan, which included a plaza, open gathering space, an amphitheatre and waterfront access (Lombard North Group, 2013). Previous conversations and discussion groups with the communities highlighted a need for community space that highlights the indigenous culture and a push for sustainable developments.


Nadji Architects led the project and collaborated with Lombard North Group Ltd. to derive a three-year master plan, which included the design for the revitalization of the space.


City of Yellowknife. (2008). 2008 Budget Update - Programs, Services and Capital Improvement Plan. Retrieved June 4, 2019, from City of Yellowknife. (2019, March 5). Smart Cities Challenge Final Proposal. Retrieved June 4, 2019, from CIVIC // PARK., Nadji Architects (n.d.). Retrieved from Detailed itinerary for prince william and kate's visit to canada: Itinerary for prince william and kate's visit. (2011, Jul 05). The Canadian Press Retrieved from Public Works and Engineering | City of Yellowknife. (n.d.). Retrieved June 4, 2019, from Somba K'e Civic Plaza | CSLA. (n.d.). Retrieved June 4, 2019, from Somba K'e Civic Plaza | Lombard North Group. (n.d.). Retrieved June 4, 2019, from Somba K'e Civic Plaza. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Somba K’e Park | Spectacular Northwest Territories. (2019, March 05). Retrieved from


Since the revitalization of the space, the City of Yellowknife describes Somba K’e Civic Plaza as a “tremendous success attracting citizens to the new space.” The project is viewed as the heart of the city, hosting numerous festivals and celebrations, all year round. The plaza is unique, vibrant, and culturally relevant - making the space the premier urban plaza in all of the Northwest Territories (CSLA, n.d.). In 2011, Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, visited the Somba K’e Civic Park as part of their visit to Canada. When they arrived, the community greeted the Royal couple with a prayer drum song, dancing, remarks, shrub-planting and plaque unveiling and sports (The Canadian Press, 2011). During this visit was when the city unveiled the ‘Garden of Hope,’ which is part of the civic park. The plaza was also included as one of the 35 places nominated as a ‘great place’ in Canada and received a Regional Merit Award by the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (Nadji Architects, 2018).


The design team faced numerous challenges because of the plaza’s location. The space is relatively isolated because of its northern locale, meaning there were limited material supplies. The team encountered a layer of permafrost, which made the design process more challenging, but they were able to resolve these issues and work within their parameters (CSLA, n.d.).


The City of Yellowknife has been working towards bettering the lives of its residents and slowly moving the city into smart technologies and sustainable practices. Yellowknife is known for its extraordinary skies, being the tourism capital of the Canadian north, community connectivity, and for having a replicable framework for northern innovation (City of Yellowknife, 2019). The project responds to the desire of the citizens of Yellowknife to have increased and safer access to the waterfront, as well as a need for better gathering space and park environments.


The City of Yellowknife invested approximately $3.2 million in the development of this major capital project. This investment included funding for the civic plaza lawn area, general landscaping and green planting, upgraded play structure, the development of a trail system, day use area and amphitheatre, and the installation of the Gerry Murphy commemorative arch (City of Yellowknife, 2008).


The City of Yellowknife Public Works and Engineering department manages and maintains the site. The department manages most operations and maintenance programs of municipal services and capital work programs (The City of Yellowknife, n.d.).