Paris – Los Angeles – Tokyo – New York: the World Answers CFI’s Cabin Design Challenge

by Daimen Hardie on March 3, 2014


Community Forests International’s panel of judges faced a larger than anticipated duty last week when over 50 entries from around the world poured into the "blur the lines" sustainable building design contest.  The bulk of the submissions arrived in the eleventh hour, a tradition in the world of architecture competitions that took us all by surprise.

“We had a dozen or so designs the day leading up to the deadline, and we were feeling pretty good about that.  When the crush of submissions came in the last few hours I knew we’d really grabbed the world’s attention with this challenge.  It’s been so inspiring to see both the local and international community lend their support to our vision.” – Jeff Shnurr, CFI Executive Director

Designers from as far away as Japan participated in the competition, with other international entries coming in from Poland, Switzertland, Romania, China, and Spain as well.  Striving to meet the high standard of sustainabilty set out in the competition criteria while also exploring new approaches to the traditional backwoods cabin experience, participants put forward a host of innovative proposals.  Many drew inspiration from the region’s proven building traditions, including Acadian architectural vernacular and the traditional wigwam of the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations.  Others emphasized the poetic side of architecture, and though not the most practical shelter designs they compel a sense of wonder and excitement about communing with Canada’s wilderness; something Community Forests Interntional believes is vital to building pride in our vast natural wealth.

“We’re at a crossroads right now, where we can choose to follow a trend of old-school exploitation or innovate how we connect with our land and make a living from our natural resources. People can earn a living, and enjoy the natural world, without destroying the earth in the process.  That’s the conversation we’re trying to evoke in a small way with this contest, and it’s the inspiration for our larger Rural Innovation Campus project.” – Daimen Hardie, CFI Program Director

It was up to the judges to decide which entries best fit Community Forests International’s principles and vision, and which one staff and volunteeers would ultimately build this summer at the fledgling Rural Innovation Campus on Whaelghinbran Farm.  The shortlist includes entries from France, Belgium, the United States, and Canada – but it was the ‘Whaelghinbran Nomadic Cabin’ submitted by a recent Master’s graduate from Toronto that earned the judges’ highest esteem.


1st Prize – Whaelghinbran Nomadic Cabin

(Entry Code 014)

Designer:      Nathan Fisher, B.Arch Sci, M.Arch

Location:       Toronto, Ontario, Canada


From the Judges:

“The Nomadic Cabin entry meets all of the competition requirements in spades. It is compact, easily constructed from local material, is easily movable, and is beautiful. The designers have also been very subtle and sophisticated in the key design moves they have made - like the trailer jacks to support the cabin. I have a sense that this design will become a popular approach for building rural cabins in the future, and could become an iconic feature of the Acadian Forest landscape.” - Craig Applegath, Architect, PPOAA, AAA, Architect AIBC, NSAA, FRAIC, LEED® AP

From the Designer:

“Transporting the cabin mitigates the environmental impact on the forest by allowing users to periodically relocate to permit old sites to regenerate. As an example, cabins can be moved over winter snow, pulled by farm equipment or livestock on a large sled or trailer and relocated before Spring on a new site to allow the previous location to regenerate. The ability to transport the cabin can also allow construction to occur in a controlled environment, removing the environmentally harsh construction process from the sensitive forest.” - Nathan Fisher

From Community Forests International:

“We’re all really excited to build the Nomadic Cabin – it’s a brilliant concept and it fits our vision of strengthening people’s connection to the land here in New Brunswick perfectly.  And I’m proud that it was a young Canadian who came out on top – this was a very competitive international contest and I think Mr. Fisher did great by drawing on his personal knowledge of our environment and traditions while also pushing the envelope on small, environmentally friendly building.” – Jeff Schnurr, CFI Executive Director


1st Runner Up – Acadian Abstraction

(Entry Code 030)

Designers:      Belle Stone, BA, M.Arch & Jeffrey Sullivan, BFA, M.Arch, MCM

Location:        Brooklyn, New York, USA


From the Designers: 

“The common relationship between a person’s dwelling and their natural surroundings is far too often expressed by a definitive threshold creating a distinct line of separation. The intention of ‘Acadian Abstraction’ is to extend this moment, creating a transitional space of ambiguity between a person’s enclosure and their natural surroundings. This extended threshold blends the built environment with the natural surroundings, challenging one to question where nature ends and where the built environment begins.” - Belle Stone & Jeffrey Sullivan

From Community Forests International:

“The transition between the forest and sheltered space in this design is really elegant – especially the vertical wood slat vestibule.  I was also really drawn to the idea of a large skylight directly over the bunk – it makes sleeping out under the stars possible in any weather, any time of year; you get to enjoy nature without giving up all your creature comforts!” - Zach Melanson, CFI Communications Director


Judge’s Award for Architectural Poetry – Hearth

(Entry Code 047)

Designers:   Kyle Schumann, B.Arch & Katie MacDonald, B.Arch

Location:     Los Angeles, California, USA


From the Designers:

“Distilling the components of the classic backwoods cabin down to a wood stove and a stack of firewood, Hearth hybridizes conventionally disjunct elements into a seamless occupiable space - a domestic chimney. Contrasting the vertical timbers of the farm’s wooded landscape, the building takes form as a horizontal layering of wood members, from the slatted rainscreen facade to the logs it stows. Stocked with logs that double as both fuel and ornament, the cabin is readily equipped for cold nights. A warm sanctuary in the wooded landscape, Hearth offers an intimate fireside seating area and lodging for two visitors.” - Kyle Schumann & Katie MacDonald

From the Judges:

“The Hearth entry is one of the most compellingly poetic and inspired entries submitted. It has a powerful, grounded shape, and a materiality that connects it to the forest in a most arresting manner. But it is the inspired idea of having the entire exterior of the cabin clad in horizontal wood planks for storing firewood that gives this form its subtle and somewhat subversive appeal. On the one hand this is a very practical design; on the other, it is a slightly surreal idea - one that would more likely be found in a deepest forest-air induced dream than in reality.” - Craig Applegath, Architect, PPOAA, AAA, Architect AIBC, NSAA, FRAIC, LEED® AP

“I think the horizontal slats are really beautiful, even though they would probably trap moisture and rot in our climate.  I just like the idea of people and wildlife being able to climb all over it!” - Zach Melanson, CFI Communications Director


*People’s Choice Award – Marlice

(Entry Code 023)

Designers:     Alice Dupin, M.C.E, M.Arch and Marion Filliatre, M.C.E, M.Arch

Location:       Paris, France

*Determined by highest number of online votes from the general public.


From the Designers:

“The visitor discovers the shrine at a bend in the path, the dynamics of inclined surfaces of the facades leads to the viewpoint. These are led by clapboard wood, reminiscent of the verticality and rhythm of tree trunks in the forest. The cabin shows two levels of reading, far and near, the façade appears to be continuous and then singular elements stand out - as in the dense forest  . . .” - Alice Dupin & Marion Filliatre

From the Judges:

“The Marlice entry is a very elegant cabin. The designers paid particular attention to both it's constructability and cost. It has an elegant form and would fit in quite nicely in the landscape. It's interior layout is also well thought out and will be comfortable for its inhabitants.” - Craig Applegath, Architect, PPOAA, AAA, Architect AIBC, NSAA, FRAIC, LEED® AP


Thanks to all the designers, judges and sponsors- Just Us! Coffee, Enercheck Solutions and Mountain Equipment Co-op - for your generous contributions to the competition.




Browse our gallery of all 57 cabin designs.

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