Nk'Mip desert cultural centre

Earth walls dissolve building into landscape using rammedearth

The design of Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre is a specific and sustainable response to the building’s unique context-the unusual Canadian desert found in the South Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Sited adjacent to a remnant of the Great Basin Desert, of which 1,600 acres are being preserved by the Osoyoos band as a conservation area, this interpretative centre is part of a larger 200-acre master plan.
The partially submerged, 820 m2 building contains exhibits that celebrate the culture and history of the Band, and is designed to be an extension of the remarkable site. The desert landscape flows over the building’s green roof, held back by a rammed earth wall which, at 80m long, 5.5m high and 600mm thick, is the project’s most visible green design feature.
Visitors enter the interpretive centre at the midpoint of a gently arcing concrete wall. Within the building, in-slab radiant cooling and heating in both ceiling and floor slabs combined with 100% fresh air displacement ventilation, create an even, comfortable environment that avoids the noise, dust and other discomforts of forced air heating.
Another feature of the project is its use of beetle kill pine for interior and exterior applications. Although the lumber is not affected structurally, its irregular blue staining has presented marketing difficulties for the industry. Exterior wall applications were constructed as wood slats over a plywood sheathed wall assembly. The blue stain pine received a tinted stain/sealer on the exterior and a clear sealer on the interior.

[Refer to SABMag, Nov/Dec 2007 Issue for more details on this project]

jury comments

Designed to have secondary status to the landscape, the project is architecturally gorgeous and superbly integrated into the site with its low profile and use of rammed earth walls. Its strong, regional flavour, through use of local beetle-killed blue-stain pine and a green roof is very appealing. The project was the most sublimely beautiful of all the submissions. Its understated and limited use of materials are basic principles of sustainable design.

Watch a video of the jury commenting on the project on youtube:


  • Architect: Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden Architects + Urbanists, Vancouver
  • Owner/Developer: Osoyoos Indian Band, Oliver, BC
  • General contractor: Greyback Construction, Penticton, BC
  • Landscape architect: Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, Vancouver
  • Electrical engineer: MCL Engineering, Vancouver
  • Mechanical engineer: Cobalt Engineering, Vancouver
  • Structural engineer: Equilibrium Consulting Inc., Vancouver
  • Commissioning agent: Combined Mechanical Contractors Limited, Vernon, BC
  • Photographer: Nic Lehoux, Vancouver


  • Structure: Cast-in-place concrete construction with a rammed earth feature wall – a mixture of local sand, soil and Portland cement with about 10% water, in two –250mm leaves of rammed earth with 100mm of insulation sandwiched between for an R33 insulation value, wall not sealed; Cor-ten steel at entry to service yard; green roof.
  • Exterior/Interior: Bluestain pine dimension lumber 38×89mm re-sawn to 30×80mm and applied over wood furring at 550cm o.c. on exterior and interior walls and soffits, finished with a tinted stain/sealer on the exterior and a clear sealer on the interior; also used on the reception desk as featured element, double-glazed windows with low E coating Soprema roof membrane, Marmoleum flooring by Forbo
  • HVAC, Water: Radiant heating and cooling system incorporated into the ceiling and wall slabs, 100% outdoor air displacement ventilation; low-flow faucets, dual flush toilets, and waterless urinals provide savings of over 40% in potable water consumption
  • Building gross floor area: 775 m2
Print this article | Send by e-mail

Leave a Reply