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The Zibi House & Development In Gatineau, Quebec: Connecting An Ancient Past To A Net Zero Future

The Zibi House in Gatineau is an 8-storey tower of transformed shipping containers overlooking the Ottawa River that serves as the architectural brand ambassador for a new waterfront community known as the Zibi Development – a 34 acre net-zero residential & office complex being constructed by Dream Unlimited Corporation.

Along with serving as the development’s presentation centre, it’s been positioned as a unique venue for events, whether that’s a concert or conference, a wedding or a tradeshow, The objective is clever. Create a spectacular cultural sensory experience that will allow visitors to smell, hear, touch, taste, and see Zibi in all its glory, and convert those visitors into future residents. And they’re accomplishing this in part to the vision of internationally acclaimed Canadian designer Paolo Ferrari who has created a modern, welcoming architectural statement piece.

‘Zibi’ – translated from Anishinabe – is the word for ‘river’, and holds an important cultural significance for the aboriginal peoples of Algonquin. If we consider how important water was (and still is!) to early human settlements, not to mention basic life needs and trade, it’s easy to see how the Zibi community is of great importance to its local community and its inhabitants.



Situated directly on the water in Gatineau, the Zibi Community prides itself in being the world’s largest net-zero community, while also acting as a waterfront oasis for its urban neighbours located north and south of the river. Being part of one of the most progressive & sustainable communities in Canada will hold a great deal of honour for the future residents of the Zibi house, one of this green community’s newest additions.



The space is made to be very minimalist in its form, which was done intentionally as a way to shift the focus more onto the natural environment and its makeup. By leaving the space shape relatively ‘blank’ in ornamentation and detail, the surfaces are made to behave as a sort of canvas for the natural stone and wood materials to shine through and speak their own voice about the history, geology, and ecosystems of the region. The rooms in the space curate the viewer through a design experience, which is completely inspired by the local flora and surrounding landscape.



Speaking through both concept and materials, the Zibi House offers a unique tribute to its location by referencing historical, environmental, or cultural elements of the site. The Zibi House takes the viewer forward through its changes in time from its Aboriginal roots, to later in its history when the location was a paper mill, referenced by a single serviceberry tree in the courtyard.



The conceptual story of the Zibi House told through materials and design is also accentuated by the stark contrast between natural materials of organic/irregular shapes and patterns, juxtapositioning themselves loudly over the simple contemporary elements of dark steel and neatly curved snow-white gypsum board.



In all its natural splendor, the Zibi House still has one more surprise up its sleeve to wow its visitors and connect all the dots back together. The beautiful bow that ties it all together of course is the landscape itself. Those lucky enough to visit the Zibi House are able to travel to a glass observation deck atop a tower of shipping containers for a specially-curated glimpse of the landscape.



Something I personally found interesting was the placement of the observation area. Intentional or not, this design move is reminiscent of a classic architectural concept in the English Renaissance called an ‘English Garden’, where a window would be strategically placed in order to frame the perfect view of the garden below, creating what is meant to be the most optimal view. However, in this case, the landscape is not manicured as the old English gardens were and instead is allowed to be viewed and appreciated for its natural beauty.

Simple but straightforwardly brilliant, the Zibi House is conceptually brilliant and has the architectural flash to back it up.

Check out more of Studio Paolo Ferrari’s portfolio for similiar works!


Curious about Canadian custom furniture? Check out these Canadian Real Estate, Housing & Home articles:

The Barn In Mansonville, Quebec By La Firme & Michel Lemieux

Cabin In Go Home Bay, Ontario, By Ian MacDonald Architect Inc.

Bridge House By LLAMA Urban Design In Huntsville, Ontario


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Researched and Written by Mikhail Shchupak-Katsman, Undergraduate Environmental Design, OCAD University

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