Renowned for beautiful views, indigenous history and a famous golf resort, Ontario’s Bigwin Island will also soon be home to a new planned community spearheaded by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, a Halifax-based studio that won the bid for the project with their contemporary and eco-friendly proposal. The first three cabins of the 40-unit community have recently been completed and feature a locally sourced natural materials palette, an oversized roof reminiscent of Muskoka’s historic cottages and boathouses, as well as energy-efficient geothermal heating and passive ventilation systems.

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Located a couple hours north of Toronto in the middle of Lake of Bays, the cabins at Bigwin Island are part of an island revitalization plan set forth by property owner Jack Wadsworth, who decided to create 40 site-sensitive guest houses — ranging from 1,230 to 1,350 square feet — instead of a 150-room hotel. In keeping with their client’s desires, MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects began the design process by “listening to the land” and crafted three cabin typologies, each inspired by a different type of landscape on the island: “linear on the lake, courtyard in the woods, and pinwheel on the meadow.” Based on the design of Muskoka vernacular housing, each cabin will be assembled from a kit of parts that include a screened-in porch, a deck, a hearth, a great room, a sleeping box and a roof.

Designed with minimal site impact, each cabin will also be oriented to take advantage of views as well as passive cooling strategies. In addition to using local materials and labor, the construction process will be kept simple due to the challenges of building on the island in winter between the fall and spring golf seasons. A geothermal heating system will draw heat from the lake and warm the cabins through the floors. 

Related: Passive solar Martin-Lancaster House is wrapped in glass and cedar shingles

“The ambition of this project transcends the individual guesthouses; Mackay-Lyons Sweetapple is bringing to Bigwin Island a vision of community,” explain the architects in a press release. “The buildings engage not only with the landscape, but with each other. They are sited in clusters, where their transparency and openness put them in conversational relationships.”

+ MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects

Images by Doublespace Photography