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Competition: Indigenous housing, Canada

Architects Without Borders (AWB) Canada has announced an international ideas contest for new housing for remote indigenous communities (Deadline: 14 November)

Open to everyone, with multidisciplinary collaborations encouraged, the competition seeks proposals for social housing for Canada’s indigenous communities in areas with limited year-round road access.

The project aims to boost the overall quality and sustainability of housing provided for the descendants of Canada’s original inhabitants, known as the First Nations. Many communities currently suffer from overcrowding and poor-quality housing and are not served by year-round all-weather roads.

Housing in Canada's remote indigenous communities

Housing in Canada’s remote indigenous communities

Housing in Canada’s remote indigenous communities

According to the brief: ‘The purpose of this competition is to raise awareness of Indigenous Housing in Canada and improve opportunities available to design, deliver and maintain housing for remote access Indigenous Canadians.

‘There are over 600 Indigenous Communities in Canada with over 60 ethnic groups located in diverse landscapes, many with remote access. Current housing is provided by Indigenous Communities or with funding from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Housing demand can exceed supply causing overcrowding.’

Canada is home to around 850,000 First Nations people with the majority of communities located in Ontario and British Columbia. Many settlements are cut off by road during winter and only accessible by air, sea lift or temporary winter road across lakes.

AWB Canada is a not-for-profit voluntary organisation set up in 2005 to help communities affected by poverty, disaster or pandemic. Its founding members include architects, designers, academics and students from the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Architecture.

Submissions may focus on one aspect of housing or feature a comprehensive strategy for communities. Proposals should respond to climate and history, harness local materials and labour, enhance people’s sense of community, culture and family, and be flexible enough to accommodate growth.

The jury will reflect a range of viewpoints and expertise and will mostly feature indigenous members. Ten teams will be shortlisted for detailed review ahead of the selection of winners.

The overall winner, due to be announced on 8 February, will receive a $5,000 CAD prize while a second prize of $3,000 CAD and third prize of $2,000 CAD will also be awarded.

How to apply


The deadline for submissions is 2pm local time (CST) on 14 November


There is no fee to enter this competition

Contact details

Architects Without Borders Canada
The Manitoba Association of Architects (MAA)
137 Bannatyne Ave
MB R3B 0R3


Visit the competition website for more information

 Q&A with Victor Kolynchuk

The competition organiser and practice leader at Architecture49 discusses his ambitions for the contest

Victor Kolynchuk

Victor Kolynchuk

Victor Kolynchuk

Why are your holding a competition for remote access indigenous housing in Canada?

The purpose of this competition is to raise awareness of indigenous housing in Canada and improve opportunities to design, deliver and maintain housing for remote access Indigenous Canadians. Currently, Indigenous housing is being provided, for the most part, as a commodity with a very narrow range of possibilities and outcomes. Our competition asks the question: can we do better?

Design criteria have been developed by meeting with indigenous housing representatives. Most of the design jury are indigenous also. We plan to assess the competition and award winners once results have been determined by having roundtable discussions with indigenous representatives as well. Initially we felt that distribution of the competition within Canada and to similar bioregions such as Scandinavia or Alaska would help achieve a good number of submissions. Since we have been posted on competition websites, 60 per cent of visitors have been international with 40 per cent from Canada and the United States.

What is your vision for the new housing?

We do not have any preconceptions regarding aesthetics or facilities to be provided. We are hoping for designers to address this problem based on first principles. Recently overcrowding and condition of housing in communities such as Attawapiskat and Kashechewan have been in the news so we expect some response to growth and maintenance strategies as well as community planning, different housing models and placemaking related to housing design. Site size is not limited for proposed housing solutions. Many communities do not have a community plan.

Based on meeting with indigenous housing representatives, we identified issues we clustered into major design criteria we call design portals. There are six design portals: vision, place, sustainability, community, growth and funding. Proponents can take an integrated approach to address all six design portals or just the ones they feel strongly about and have expertise in. Submissions will be judged on the quality and depth of solutions for the design portals addressed. Design portals are related to each other, if a focus is made on sustainability for example, funding may increase or decrease as result. Sustainability is important as remote construction cost is 60 per cent higher than in serviced communities.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

The competition is open to all: students, architects, engineers, planners, lawyers and northern residents may all submit as individuals or as teams. Award winners will be announced publicly at an awards presentation as well as digitally, receive a cash prize and participate in public presentations. There is no expectation that the selected designs will be built as a project, however, it is possible that winners may make a name for themselves if significant improvements are made.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

At the moment, our focus is on this competition not launching another. We see this as a first step and hope that the competition can sustain itself for five years with more people becoming involved.

Are there any other indigenous housing projects you have been impressed by?

One housing project I have always been impressed by is James Stirling’s low-cost housing project for Lima, based on an incremental design approach. Locally in Canada, Alfred Waugh is an indigenous architect doing great work.