SoLo House, British Columbia

Sitting lightly upon a forested knoll overlooking the Soo Valley in British Columbia’s Coast Mountains, Perkins and Will’s performance-led project  is not a typical alpine home.

Designed for Vancouver-based developer, Delta Land Development, the home is a prototype for low-energy systems, healthy materials, and prefabricated and modular construction methods intended to inform larger projects.

Photo courtesy of Perkins and Will

With Delta Group’s intention to pioneer a future zero emissions approach to building, Perkins and Will designed a prototype that demonstrates a unique approach to building off-grid in a remote environment where every choice has consequences.

The home expresses a restrained material palette while generating more energy than it uses, eliminating fossil fuels and combustion from its operation. Challenging conventions in both aesthetics and construction, the prototype acts as a testing ground for low-energy systems, healthy materials, prefabricated and modular construction methods, and independent operations intended to inform the approach to larger projects such as Canada’s Earth Tower.

A Passive House certified building, wood was chosen as the primary structural material and is authentically expressed and exposed in its entirety throughout the home—a ‘temple to douglas fir’.

Photo courtesy of Perkins and Will

Given the valley’s extreme climate, the design team knew it was critical to have an ‘enclosure-first’ approach to ensure energy efficiency and outstanding comfort.

“With the goal of Passive House certification, we applied a two-layer approach to the enclosure—an outer heavy timber frame acts as shield, resisting the weather, while the heavily insulated inner layer acts as the thermal barrier,” says Perkins and Will.

Photo courtesy of Perkins and Will

“To make certain the house functions with exceptional thermal performance and air tightness, we conducted detailed thermal modeling of each weather condition. With the addition of double height glazing opening the home up to the valley’s incredible views, the home has achieved PHI Low Energy Building certification.”

As an ‘off-grid’ home, a number of systems are required for its operational independence. With the goal to eliminate fossil fuels and combustion from its operation, the team incorporated a photo-voltaic array, geoxchange system, and hydrogen fuel cell as a backup energy storage solution. Although it reduces efficiency, the site’s topography, along with the snow accumulation in winter, led them to mount the 32kW array vertically on the south façade.

Complementing the home’s solar generation, Perkins and Will also provided future provision for wind power. The house collects and treats its own drinking water and processes its wastewater. Solving the challenges provided by the site’s remote location and seasonal construction window, the team commissioned local builders to prefabricate modular building elements off-site.

Photo courtesy of Perkins and Will

“This was essential to allow for a quick erection of the building in the summer season while decreasing the amount of equipment and materials needed to be delivered to the site—reducing the project’s embodied carbon footprint,” says Perkins and Will.

To minimize site disturbance, the modular prefabricated home is set on a light structure above the uneven terrain, reinforcing its relationship to the site as a ‘visitor’, allowing nature and the site to remain the focus.

The interior of the house features only six materials, with douglas fir celebrated throughout as both structure and finish. With a commitment to promote health and well-being, the firm purposely chose materials that were reviewed against its Precautionary List, rounding out their  holistic approach to sustainability by eliminating harmful substances.

As part of the design process, the detailing of the building prompted a research initiative completed by the Vancouver studio, “Increasing Understanding of the Role of Thermal Bridging in Building Performance and the Design Process”.

The house sits between the traditional territories of the Lil’wat and Squamish First Nations, with evidence of occupation in the valley for centuries. Development in the broader region began in the 1970s in the present Resort Municipality of Whistler, beginning as an ‘off-grid’ settlement of avid cross-country skiers, naturalists, and outdoor adventurers. With a historical forestry-based economy, today the popular skiing and hiking area is found amid stands of second-growth forest. Contributing to the local economy, the design team states that all timber cleared on the project  site fed into the local forest industry.