In the Gulf Islands, an archipelago southwest of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canadian architects Osburn/Clarke were tasked with designing an extension to a residential compound that already contained a main lodge and boathouse. Their solution: four off-grid cabins that would leave no footprint on the land and seamlessly blend into their verdant natural surrounds consisting of endangered Garry oak trees and wild lilies.
With the same footprint, the four 350-square-foot cabins each have different interior layouts. And designed with summer use in mind, they thoughtfully connect to their unique forested, oceanside landscape.
The cabins are self-sufficient, operating on a battery system that is charged by solar panels. This electricity is mainly used to power low-voltage LED lights. The cabins are heated with a wood stove and cooled with windows.
Inside, each cabin has bedroom, a sitting room, and a small powder room. "As these cabins are part of a complex, the majority of the cooking and cleaning happens in the lodge. The cabins are intended for sleeping and guest accommodation," explains architect Kevin Dolphin with Osburn/Clarke. "It keeps the mechanical system simple and the electrical system to a minimum."
A sloped roof, supported by large wooden beams, allows water to run off and then be collected for use in the powder room.
"The timber frame structure is the major space-defining element," says Dolphin. "The glazing and walls act as infill between the timber posts and beams. We also elevated the buildings using point footings to minimize the amount of concrete required — this material is expensive, difficult to transport to remote sites, and site mixing is a bit of a drag."
Inside and out, the structures are clad in clear-grain Douglas Fir with a standing-seam, zinc-finished metal roof. "We liked these durable materials because they can last many seasons in harsh weather conditions," he adds.
The sides of the cabins are encased in floor-to-ceiling windows, and sliding glass doors on the front of the cabins open to the great outdoors.
The expansive glass gives guests panoramic views of the Straight of Georgia, whether they are lying in bed or sipping a cup of coffee on the 200-square-foot cedar deck that surrounds each cabin.
To avoid obstructing views, the decks' railing systems were created with steel cables tethered to stanchions.
"Again, minimal maintenance is required, compared to glass in a coastal condition, which has a tendency to get grimy," says Dolphin.
Large wood doors were installed on a track system, so they could be manually slid shut, closing the cabins for the winter.
"The sliding wood doors are both a product of the buildings' proximity to water and the buildings' frequency of use," said Dolphin of the shutter system. "When off-season storms slam the islands, the windows are protected by the big sliders."
Builder/contractor: Heisch Enterprises Ltd.
Structural engineer: Allester Engineering Ltd.