Vancouver-based designers have a cross-country hit

The MECC cabin by Vancouver’s Bark Design Collective.


An environmentally friendly, made-in-Canada, high-tech cabin has captured the imagination of visitors at home shows across the country. .

“Smart,” “tough,” and “cool” are just a few of the comments from people who have seen the all-terrain structure that emerges from a shipping container.

The small abode is fully equipped for living and was constructed by a Vancouver-based design group to promote Canadian design and ingenuity. It’s not for sale, but almost everyone, it seems, wants to own it.

“It’s amazing how in 480 square feet, you can actually live in something that’s self-contained and filled with smart stuff,” says Lisa Snider, who visited the cabin at the Metro Home Show in Toronto in January.

The cabin is now on a four-year journey around the world. Its first stop was in Calgary in March 2006. Since then it has drawn huge crowds in Vancouver and elsewhere.

The cabin has a composting toilet, said Robert Studer, who helped design the dwelling.

There are two large holding tanks for water. The filtration system consists of UV light to kill bacteria and micro filters to pull out sediment.

As of now, the tanks are filled upon deployment of the exhibit, but plans are to add an awning to catch rainwater for the tanks, said Studer.

Energy and heat for the exhibit are provided by a biodiesel generator and by large photovoltaic panels, which are also used to recharge batteries.

Studer said it takes a team of four about a day to set up the exhibit.

The Bark Design Collective, which comprises several design firms, was formed in 2002 with a mandate to uplift the profile of ingenuity and design in Canada.

It embarked on the cabin project two years ago, said Studer, who has his own design firm This Is It Design Inc., and is also marketing director for the collective.

At the Toronto show, the lineups were long — just “absolutely packed,” especially on Saturday and Sunday, said Snider,

The cabin comes all folded up in a box — a six-metre container — called a MECC, designed by Weatherhaven and used worldwide for military and disaster relief operations.

The MECC’s walls fold down to become the floors. Everything that comprises the exhibition is strapped down in the centre of the container.

“It can actually support a family of four, even a pet,” said Snider. “That’s really amazing. People were really excited and impressed.”

When the MECC is deployed, it triples in size.

Bark wants the All Terrain Cabin to be the cabin of the 21st century, said Studer, who refused to give its cost, fearing it would give it too much of a retail image.

Part of the money for the project came from the federal government’s Western Economic Diversification Fund, he said. The rest came from the design firms and the more than 50 companies that contributed products.

Countries like Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Germany, Italy “all have very good brand images that involve design as a key component.”

The cabin shows that “Canadians are not just a whole bunch of handsome Mounties,” he said.

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