Governor General’s Medal Winner: Lake Kawagama Retreat


Large, south-facing clerestory windows are paired with lake-facing windows on the opposite side. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

LOCATION Kawagama Lake, Ontario
ARCHITECT Shim-Sutcliffe Architects Inc.

This retreat is located on the south shore of the majestic Kawagama Lake, just west of Algonquin Park. It uses natural light to create a strong sense of place: its design is set on a slope, and balances north-facing views of the lake with an invitation for southern light to enter deep into the residence. The project is nestled in a mature deciduous forest, set back from the lake so as to be invisible from the water.

Large, operable south-facing clerestory windows capture and amplify daylight as it enters the main living space. A series of wooden structural trusses shape the space and act as light reflectors, embracing and diffusing the warm southern rays. The clerestories are paired with a long bank of north-facing windows with integrated window benches. This ensures visual transparency from sky to water and promotes cross-ventilation through the seasons.

Wood structural trusses shape the light entering the main living area. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

The residence presents a series of curated views, with each vantage point carefully constructed and composed. A window in a stairwell frames a portrait of trees, a hidden moment of indirect light appears adjacent to the fireplace, and the north windows provide sweeping vistas of the water’s edge.

The building’s exterior combines charcoal-stained wood siding with wooden windows, blending into its woodland surroundings in the summer, while harmonizing with the dark deciduous tree trunks in the winter. Blue panels in front of a firewood stack provide contrast at a moment of transition between indoors and out, while a large green roof links to the forest floor. The interior palette includes a Douglas fir ceiling and walls, paired with larch wood floors.

In winter, the residence’s dark forms blend with the surrounding tree trunks. Photo by Scott Norsworthy

The fireplace, conceived as an abstract composition, anchors the project. One side of the fireplace is visible upon entry, along with a framed view of the lake. Stepping onto the hearth provides a view along the long bank of north-facing windows, before entering the main space. In the main living area, the room’s section is fully experienced: shaped by its timber structure, intertwined with natural light.

:: Jury Comments ::  Comforting, inviting, and carefully crafted, this project carries on the grand tradition of wooden cabins nestled in the Canadian wilderness. The Haliburton retreat sits half-buried in the sloping terrain overlooking the lake, reducing our perception of the cabin’s bulk. Inside, every inch is scrupulously designed, almost as if the interior were carved out of a single piece of wood. The sculpting of light using wood—such as with the over-sized Douglas Fir fins in the main living area—creates a soft glow that animates the interior and invites you in any season.

A seating alcove adjoins the main entry. Photo by Shim-Sutcliffe Architects

PROJECT TEAM Brigitte Shim (FRAIC), Howard Sutcliffe (FRAIC), Andrew Kimber, Andrew Hart | Client Anna Yang and Joseph Schull | CONTRACTOR Derek Nicholson Construction Inc. | STRUCTURAL Blackwell Engineering | MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL BK Consulting | SPECIALIZED MILLWORK Two Degrees North | OCCUPANCY September 1, 2014 | BUDGET withheld