Can a building clear the air?

Submission: March 26, 2016
Registration: March 26, 2016
Language: English
Location: Concept
Prizes: 1st Prize: 1000$ & project construction
Type: Open


Community Forests International (CFI) is excited to announce its second architectural design competition for the backwoods cabin of the future. The winning design will be constructed in the summer of 2016 and will accommodate students, guests, and innovators-in-residence on campus. The winning team will receive a $1,000 cash prize.

 The first, hosted in 2014, drew in over 50 entries from 11 different countries and served as a platform for exploring how humans can get back to nature in the 21st century. Bringing together visionary architects, artists, green builders and DIYers, this new challenge addresses the climate crisis and will help transform the organization’s 235 hectare (580 acre) organic farm and forest outside of Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada into a Rural Innovation Campus.


In the interest of making this exercise as free and accessible as possible, CFI has modified the conventional approach to architectural design competitions. We hope that our architect friends will forgive us for taking liberties! The competition is open to anyone from anywhere – no registration required – and teams are invited to submit questions at anytime throughout the designated Q & A period (Feb. 12th – 26th, 2016).


Conceive and design a small all-season shelter for backwoods accommodation of one or two people. The shelter will be used primarily as sleeping quarters for students, workers, dreamers, and guests. The overall user experience of this unique retreat-like accommodation should be a central design consideration.

Compact size and efficiency are important. Although there is no minimum size in this challenge, the shelter’s ground level footprint must not exceed 17.09 square meters (or 184 square feet). It should sleep at least two and provide for a woodstove. Loft accommodation may be considered, and additional features such decks, tables and seating are optional. A composting toilet will be located in a separate shelter ‘on site but out of sight’. Primary cooking and washing facilities will accessed at communal infrastructure nearby (i.e. no washroom, plumbing or kitchen necessary in the shelter design).

Minimize greenhouse gas emissions. This is where the real innovation happens, and a building’s overall impact on the climate will be of primary importance in evaluating design entries. In this case we are looking for designs that pay careful attention to: 1) minimizing the embodied carbon of the construction materials (i.e. choosing materials with a low carbon footprint); and 2) minimizing the emissions associated with operating the building (i.e. designing for efficiency in terms of heating, cooling, and lighting). For more information on the carbon footprint of various building materials we recommend the Inventory of Carbon and Energy Database produced by Circular Ecology (see Summary Table tab within).

Material costs for the cabin must not exceed $10,000 CAD and design solutions which keep costs low are encouraged. We understand this presents a significant challenge. As a charity we are limited in our resources, and in the interest of making our work transferable we have to assume the same for most other people and organizations too.

Teams are encouraged to carefully consider the region’s climate and geography, and to respond in meaningful and appropriate ways. We are situated within a local snow belt in a forested upland valley at 2,593,372 meters easting and 7,415,708 meters northing (UTM NAD 83 CSRS New Brunswick Stereographic). The average mid-winter low temperature is -14 °C (7 °F) and the average mid-summer high temperature is +25 °C (55 °F). Insulation and heating efficiency for the winter months is very important, but so are sun shading, passive cooling, and natural ventilation during the summer.

Develop strategies that maximize the use of local, sustainably sourced, and non-toxic building materials.

Teams may also draw inspiration from existing buildings on site and / or the region’s local architectural design and material history. This inland area of the Kennebecasis River Valley has straddled Mi’kmaq and Maliseet territory for thousands of years. The traditional dwelling of both these peoples is a portable wigwam constructed using softwood poles, spruce root lashing, and birchbark sheathing. The region’s Acadian architectural history includes stone foundations and fireplaces, shingled roofs, dovetailed logs, and heavy timber frames with cob infill walls. The early English settlers introduced more log shanties and timber frames, stone enders, saltboxes, etc. Wood construction has dominated in the region since the mid-1700s, due mainly to the abundance of forest products.

Teams should aim to keep structural and building techniques as simple as possible so that winning solutions are transferable to a wide scale.


Teams are required to submit their completed entries via the competition UPLOADER or by email to daimen@forestsinternational.org

1) Illustration (up to 6 pages)

Each proposal can consist of up to six (6) illustrated pages of letter-sized paper (8.5 × 11 inches) documenting the architectural design strategy. All submissions will be displayed in an online gallery under Creative Commons licensing via the CFI website and short-listed entries will also be displayed at a public venue in Saint John, New Brunswick. Your presentation should include the following drawings:

Site Plan
Floor plans
Exterior perspective or Axonometric
Building section or sections
Any other drawings or diagrams that you think might help explain your project

Illustrations are to be submitted as .PDF files labelled with the following filename designations:


Design entries will initially be displayed anonymously for judging purposes, so make sure that the pages themselves do not have your team’s name or identity listed. Following judging, team authorship will be included with links to relevant online portfolios.

2) Project Description (up to 2 pages)

Provide a brief explanation of your entry’s design and approach, highlighting the particularly innovative and / or central themes (max 500 words).

Submit as .PDF file with the following filename designation:


3) Materials & Price List (one page)

Provide a materials and price list for your entry in an Excel file or an equivalent spreadsheet format. Remember that material costs for the cabin must not exceed $10,000 CAD.

Submit as .XLSX file with the following filename designation:


Building Site


The building site is located on a southeast-facing slope at ~150 meters (~490 feet) elevation within a forest stand composed largely of white spruce and white pine. The tallest surrounding trees range between 16 – 18 meters (50 – 60 feet) high and irregular openings in the canopy allow dappled sunlight to reach the forest floor. Sightlines towards the south & southwest provide views over a young orchard and farm fields along the Whaelghinbran Valley. Moving west the slope climbs to ~290 meters (~950 feet) elevation.

Minimal selective pruning and canopy removal will be carried out at the south end of the building site to increase solar exposure for a photovoltaic array and / or passive heating. Aside from careful maintenance of this solar exposure and removal of hazardous trees when necessary, the site will remain largely untouched.


Access to the building site is provided by a nearby forestry extraction trail and footpaths to the east which connect to a public dirt road. Therefore, only light machinery may be used for delivery of materials, excavation, construction, etc. The finished building will be accessed primarily on foot and seasonally by snowshoe or cross-county ski.
Additional Buildings

Currently the only additional building in the immediate vicinity is the Whaelghinbran Nomadic Cabin, a realization of the winning design entry from our previous competition. A simple firewood shelter will also be constructed nearby in the future as well as a small composting toilet. In time, it is envisioned that this area will be populated by a number of independent retreat cabins – a network of private accommodation sharing central cooking and cleaning facilities. Though teams are encouraged to consider how their design will contribute in a unique way to the larger community of buildings, each cabin will be sited for privacy and will be experienced in isolation.


All entries will be displayed via the innovation platform on CFI’s website. Short-listed entries will be printed and displayed in a public exhibition in Saint John, NB. The winning entrant will be announced on April 1st, 2016 and awarded a $1,000 cash prize. The winning design will be constructed at CFI’s Rural Innovation Campus in the summer of 2016 and profiled in associated media communications and on the CFI website.


Feb. 12th, 2016 Competition and Q & A Period Opens

Feb. 26th, 2016 Q & A Period Closes

Mar. 26th, 2016 Competition Closes

March 30th – April 13th, 2016 People’s Choice Voting / Jury Deliberation

Apr. 15th, 2016 Winners Announced & Released to Press


All entries will be protected under Creative Commons licensing (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International). Entries submitted should be the original work of the participant or team.

Go to the competition’s website