The Courtyard House By MBAC, In Calgary, Alberta

MBAC (Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative) is undoubtedly an innovative firm.


Because if you take a moment to scroll through their online portfolio, it will show their dedication to bold experiments. Their approach to residential architecture demonstrates their commitment to redefining minimalist and functional design. And it’s been extremely well-received, with several awards, accolades, and honourable mentions. In 2020 alone, MBCA was the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada laureate, a considerable acknowledgment in the architecture world.

MBCA’s offices are located in Calgary, Alberta, a prairie city known for its role in the oil and gas industry, which has been part of the Calgary economic and cultural development for decades. However, their reach spans across Alberta and British Columbia, where most of their projects are located.

Take a look at the Courtyard House, a fascinating contemporary residence located just outside of Calgary.

The exterior photo above shows how the Courtyard House presents itself to passersby on the street. 

The ground-level facade and hardscaping comprise a lot of delineated concrete massing, with a monolithic wood-paneled podium perched on top of it to appear almost as if floating, containing strategically placed apertures allowing light to filter in based on the time, day, and season. What’s particularly unusual is the commitment to privacy, which we rarely see in domestic architecture. 

What you don’t see is the mature copse of trees at the rear of this property and an abundance of greenery throughout the interior, which counterbalances what might otherwise feel imposing and fortress-like.

The design strategy for a Home designed for people who love privacy, nature, and their pet tortoise can be tricky. However, MBCA cleverly accommodated the wishes, wants, and needs of these clients. As quoted by the MBAC team: “The project’s response to this mandate is twofold: the social program is buried as a means of providing privacy, while the interior is animated through the volumetric filtration of light.” 

MBAC used a sculpted wooden monolith supported on exposed concrete walls as the framework for The Courtyard House.

Entering the foyer through floor-to-ceiling glass doors, which is located partially below-grade on the first level, a glass-enclosed atrium that serves as the home for the resident tortoise anchors this circulation space. Surrounded by the staircase, this biophilic focal point also floods the space with natural light.

Just beyond, an open plan media room also features floor-to-ceiling glass doors that connect to the rear garden and woodlands beyond. I particularly like how the exposed concrete walls, which comprise the dwelling’s external structure, extend beyond the interior as a berm wall enclosing the sunken terraced garden. This artfully blurs the distinction between inside and out, while increasing the sense of space.

There are moments of surprise here, too. A media centre custom-built from wood was gracefully integrated into the steel structure holding the upper level. Incorporating the building’s hard lines with the crafted rusticity of the furniture unifies the components of domesticity – shelter and contents – by blending them as a single statement.

This visual harmony is evident throughout, thanks to the minimalist fixtures, fittings, and furnishings that embrace natural materials, whether stone, wood, glass, metal, or textiles. They comprise a complementary colour palette in white, grey, and brown shades.

The second floor, flooded in light through the expansive use of floor-to-ceiling glazing and skylights, feels very much like a floating box. Limiting the number of materials and incorporating them on different planes, the space appears singular and cohesive even though it has different zones for living. For instance, the wood cladding wrapping the exterior podium is repeated on the interior ceilings, and the use of concrete on both the floors and walls appears both inside and out.

The angled apertures in the wood-clad podium, designed to optimize each specific area’s use and orientation, provide an unexpected relief from a structural composition that might otherwise read as rigid and controlled. 

The private sleeping quarters were oriented towards the garden and natural woodlot beyond, where views of the surrounding flora and fauna enhance the occupants’ health and well-being.

This project’s success is also the result of the architect’s commitment to connecting the indoors and outdoors. I particularly like how the irregularly sloped site – known as a ‘reverse ravine’ – was seamlessly incorporated into the property space plan.

In my opinion, this outstanding piece of architecture, where its many unique design features elevate the fundamentals of shelter into the status of art, confirms this firm’s talent and their ongoing recognition of excellence.

To learn more about the firm’s innovative projects, visit Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative.

Love contemporary housing like we do? Check out these other posts on

1- The LG House By Thirdstone Inc In Edmonton, Alberta

2- A 3 Unit Residence in Calgary By Davignon Martin Architecture + Interior Design

3 –The Bower Avenue House By Flynn Architect In Ottawa, Ontario

4- A Vertical House In Toronto’s Corktown

Photo credit: Bruce Edward / Tim Smith

Researched and written by Mohcine Sadiq, an Internationally trained architect, and Canadian architecture enthusiast.

Posted In: Alberta
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