This Prefab Cabin Aims to House Canada's First Nation Communities

Using innovative building techniques, prefab, CLT, and efficient thermal design to address housing needs

This Prefab Cabin Aims to House Canada's First Nation Communities


Ellen Eberhardt


Mark Hemmings

Pennsylvania raised and Brooklyn-based, Ellen is a designer, outdoorist, and sometimes dancer.

As any frequent Field Mag reader knows, we're as interested in dreamy cabins and inspiring design as we are embracing and encouraging a more equitable, more diverse outdoors community. So when the opportunity to highlight a project that touches on both, everyone wins. Enter Cardinal House.

Developed to address housing shortages and inefficiencies within Canada’s First Nations communities, Cardinal House is an ongoing prefab initiative by renowned architect Douglas Cardinal, in partnership with mass timber manufacturer Element5, builder Maisons Chicoine Homes, and the Elsipogtog First Nation.


Housing is a complex and long-standing issue within Indigenous communities, due to environmental, logistical, infrastructural, and governance challenges—not to mention systemic racism. What house does exists is in short supply, and often designed inefficient for the surrounding climate.

Poorly-made housing leads to several key issues; it can not be passed down through generations, banks are hesitant to mortgage it, and within Eastern Canada especially, high-humidity mixed with inadequate moisture management can cause the growth of black mold.

The Cardinal House prototype, built for the Elsipogtog First Nation community in New Brunswick, addresses these issues with affordable, high-performance prefab building techniques for an energy-efficient and mold-resistant home.


Focusing on constructing a durable, air-tight, and thermally-efficient envelope, the Cardinal House is built off-site using CLT and CLIPs with triple-glazed windows pre-installed and a radiant heat system. In short, its rigorously designed, built, and assembled for comfort and durability. And future mass manufacturing.

While there is no single solution to housing needs, anywhere, the Cardinal House presents one that addresses the needs of its particular community and climate, two of the largest factors in making structures genuinely sustainable.

With four more to be built in the coming months, progress is being made, even if incremental. Now add on potentially similar use-cases of other international prefab builders, like the hyper-portable Brette Haus from Latvia, and a future where homelessness is humanely addressed begins to feel slightly less like a utopian dream.


Published 02-04-2021