Walking towards an architectural project borne by North Vancouver’s Mindful Architecture can feel like slipping into a utopian reality, to a place where homes are interwoven with nature in both aesthetic and function.
Crafted in response to the dire need for affordable housing for Indigenous communities, the homes are designed to blend traditional ancestral systems with contemporary architectural design. Landscape views and seamless transitions between indoors and outdoors are a priority, as are eco-conscious power solutions, home-based food production and cultural resonance.
“We learn from the sophisticated simplicity of the traditional Indigenous housing strategies that interweave with the lands in a regenerative manner,” said Geneviève Noël, who founded the firm in 2017 alongside architect partner T. Maginnis Cocivera.
A design currently in its planning stages, the Solar Plank House, sees a grouping together of multiple singular modules designed to ensure there is enough space to cater to multi-generational families. Small details, like central fire places as opposed to a fireplace set against a wall, communicates the different set of cultural values that come with creating Indigenous abodes.
Noël, who is of both French and Indigenous descent, said the two want to offer “culturally resonant housing” as an alternative to colonial bungalows. The firm is currently designing several single family homes for North Vancouver and West Vancouver.
“This is about not imposing European colonial models on communities that have lived for millennia here, and have adapted to climate in sophisticated ways” she said. “We need to learn from Indigenous communities how to live symbiotically with the earth.”
As far as the design process goes, Cocivera said Mindful Architecture works as closely as possible with the local First Nations to ensure all cultural nods are respectful and authentic. Rather than imposing their design, the two take their time to understand the needs of the Indigenous communities.
“We listen and learn to what the community wants, these Elders, the youth, the knowledge keepers,” said Cocivera. “We then enter a co-creation process with the community so that their hopes and dreams become integral to the design.”
For a more cost effective and eco-conscious option, the firm are collaborating with a 3D-printing company in Italy that produces natural, concrete-like materials. Sequestering carbon rather than emitting it, the materials provide a “significant positive impact” on the abatement of climate change, said Noël.
“We have to stop looking at the planet as a resource for extraction, and instead as a living organism that we’re a part of,” she said. “We are an integral part of this system, we are not a separate entity.”
Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.