Book Review: Community Housing in Canada

BK CommunityHousingCanada

Community-Inspired Housing in Canada

Edited by Daniel Pearl and Daniel Wentz. Zürich: Holcim Foundation, 2014.

The recent federal election drew some attention to the impact that Canadians are having on the health of our planet—though, many would argue, not enough. Conversations on the subject focused on oil, pipelines, transit infrastructure and jobs in the so-called “green economy.”

Largely ignored were the negative effects of our day-to-day lifestyles. Per capita, Canadians are among the world’s top 15 producers of greenhouse gas emissions, with the built environment an important contributor to this reality.

In this context, it is all the more valuable to study projects where sustainability has been successfully sought. Community-Inspired Housing in Canada is a worthwhile place to begin this process. Focused on the redevelopment of Montreal’s Benny Farm, a 1940s social housing complex, the book examines the evolution of a sustainability-minded project aimed directly at responding to community needs.

While handsome, the book is not a coffee table volume featuring shelter magazine shots of supposedly green cabins and private homes. Instead, attention is paid to the intersectional nature of creating a sustainable community, with as much of an eye to re-use, consultation, process and economics as specific technological fixes.

Benny Farm itself is an embodiment of certain Canadian stereotypes: somewhat communitarian, a stylistic blend, miscellaneously contemporary, but friendly and mild-mannered. Like the project, this book is practical-minded. The result is an attractive, text-heavy case study that will hopefully serve as a guide to future architects and community planners.

This book can be downloaded at

Jeffrey Thorsteinson is a writer and researcher with the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation.