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Passive House Project: Nuutsumuut Lelum

Big reduction in operating costs helps affordability

By David Simpson and Darcy Imada

The 25-unit Nuutsumuut Lelum development provides affordable housing for members of the Indigenous community in Nanaimo, BC, including homes for youth, singles, and families with up to five members. In addition, special consideration has been given to provide homes for Elders to strengthen the inter-generational relationships that are important in a family-based community.

The site is adjacent to an arterial road, providing high visibility for the city’s Indigenous community for the first time. In response to the configuration and orientation of the site, the ground-oriented residences are sited in a linear pattern that defines pedestrian circulation and outdoor space. A fundamental objective of the client community was that the built form and landscape create the opportunity for the residents to interact. Accordingly, the entry to the development is central on the site so residents and visitors enter at the heart of the community – the indoor and outdoor gathering spaces. This entry is identified by an 11-metre high totem pole and ceremonial entrance.

The linear building massing along Bowen Road conforms to the City guideline for a two-storey street wall with residential windows providing eyes on the street.  The undulating roofs slope down to the north to maximize sun access to the outdoor spaces and, in the case of the buildings on the north side of the site, to the south-facing windows. 

The architecture draws inspiration from the topography, the proximity to the natural environment of the adjacent river and park, and references to historical and contemporary West Coast architecture. The basic shed roof and ridge roof forms, characteristic of West Coast timber construction, are juxtaposed to create an informal massing that steps and curves with the topography as the site falls toward the river.

This vernacular character is supported through careful use of materials and colours. The buildings are clad with natural cedar, with detail elements referencing both traditional West Coast indigenous buildings and Modern architecture. Vertical elements identify the individual homes and add interest to the streetscape.

The development has been designed and constructed to Passive House standards, dramatically reducing energy demand, increasing interior comfort, and providing a very quiet indoor environment – particularly important for the houses adjacent to Bowen Road.  The orientation of the buildings and the low slope of the roofs enable all suites to receive full winter sun as a heat source. Louvred sun shades on the south-elevation control summer heat gain.

The windows are EuroLine‘s triple-glazed 4700-series ThermoPlus PHC windows.