2024 RAIC Emerging Architectural Practice Award: Peter Braithwaite Studio

This year’s top emerging architectural practice sees buildings as members of overarching ecological systems.


The front elevation of The Sandbox, a home in Bathurst, New Brunswick, appears as a simple box form wrapped by a weathering steel stair. A second steel element forms a windbreak over the entryway. Photo by Ema Peter

Peter Braithwaite Studio (PBS) is an architectural firm dedicated to designing and constructing environmentally sensitive buildings. ​With a focus on ecological principles and interdisciplinary collaboration, PBS aims to create sustainable built environments that integrate seamlessly with the natural world. ​

Led by Peter Braithwaite, an architect with a background in natural science, the studio brings a unique perspective to architectural practice. ​Peter’s upbringing in a family of veterinarians and his own studies in biology gave him a deep appreciation for the natural world. ​

Two outbuildings to architect Peter Braithwaite’s Back Bay residence in Nova Scotia serve as a millwork shop and storage. Photo by Peter Braithwaite

At PBS, the team believes that buildings should be viewed as members of overarching ecological systems, rather than isolated design endeavours. They advocate for an approach that goes beyond energy efficiency and thermal properties, taking into account the larger context of habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss caused by human activity. ​Although we are faced with a growing housing crisis, the team takes the position that architects must work collaboratively with natural scientists and ecologists to develop sustainable housing solutions that can be implemented without the need for domineering construction practices that exclude the basic requirements of the natural environment.

The 120-foot-long Meet in the Middle House in Pictou, Nova Scotia, includes separate studio spaces for two artists. Photo by Ema Peter

Unlike traditional architectural firms, PBS acts as both the architectural team and the builders. Their interdisciplinary team works collaboratively from the initial project concept to the completion of the final building. This ensures not only that project concepts prioritize sustainability, but that the sequencing, methods, and logistics of construction are aligned with ecological principles. ​ 

A boardwalk separates living and sleeping pavilions at Lambkill Ridge, a retreat in Terence Bay, Nova Scotia. Photo by Peter Braithwaite

In addition to their architectural projects, PBS is actively engaged in research pursuits. Peter Braithwaite is currently pursuing two doctorate degrees: one in the Interdisciplinary Doctorate Program at Dalhousie University, and another in the Doctor of Design program at the University of Calgary. ​His research at Dalhousie examines the relationship between the height of buildings from the ground and terrestrial biodiversity, with the goal of contributing public policy revisions and improvements in architectural planning standards. His research at the University of Calgary investigates how potable water cisterns, on-site disposal systems, and other required site services can be integrated into fully resolved prefabricated structural systems, with the intention to diminish construction’s impact on natural environments and increase ecological connectivity in built environments.

A dedication to teaching and education is another important aspect of PBS’s work. Peter Braithwaite has been actively involved in teaching at Dalhousie University’s School of Architecture, and his office was named Canadian Co-op Design Office of the Year by Dalhousie University in 2018. ​Peter’s future plans include developing curriculum that integrates ecological principles into architectural education, bridging the gap between natural science disciplines and architectural practice. ​

The Armstrong Island cottage, located near Peterborough, Ontario, comprises a living pavilion, sleeping pavilion, and guest bunkie. Photo by Peter Braithwaite

Jury Comment :: Peter Braithwaite Studio is becoming a leader in research and practice, with notable integration of PhD research. This young office has developed guiding principles to address the challenges of our time with a focus on preserving biodiversity and minimizing the destruction of ecosystems. Their work is impressive and beautifully executed, embodying the quality needed for the future of architecture in Canada.

In his leadership of the practice, Braithwaite also understands the new challenges of the practice, namely sustainability, and the level of dedication necessary to formalize high-quality architecture from conceptualization to realization. His involvement in teaching and in the community also illustrates his continuous focus with advocating for architecture in Canada.

As appeared in the May 2024 issue of Canadian Architect magazine