Ian MacDonald design the Go Home Bay Cabin located in the Ontario’s Georgian Bay archipelago

Ian MacDonald design the Go Home Bay Cabin located in the Ontario’s Georgian Bay archipelago

Architects: Ian MacDonald
Location: Ontario, Canada
Year: 2013
Photo courtesy: Ian MacDonald

“The four-season family cabin by architect Ian MacDonald is a deeply thoughtful response to the cultural heritage landscape of Go Home Bay, an enclave of Ontario’s Georgian Bay archipelago. The area was once immortalized by the Group of Seven and abounds with natural beauty. Rocky islands are topped by scraggly white pines shaped by the west winds. However, the landscape is also increasingly vulnerable to development. Over-scaled structures have become evermore commonplace, dominating the context, dwarfing the surroundings and spoiling one’s experience of the natural realm.


This cabin is an important, positive alternative to the prevailing trends. It uses contemporary language while embodying the distinguishing and modest characteristics of the vernacular cottages that have unobtrusively dotted the area since the 1890s. The amber-hued interiors, framed in rough-sawn fir, are efficient, compact and distilled down to the necessary essentials for peaceful weekends outside of the city. The simplicity belies a profound connection to the surrounding nature that is at once strong and sensitive, stirring and peaceful.


MacDonald strategically sited the structure to respect the beautiful shoreline, and to create a sense of anticipation for visitors. When visitors approach by water (it is 16-miles from the nearest dock, with no in-road access), the property’s mature trees fragment their views of the low-slung volume. It is only as visitors climb up from the dock through a juniper meadow, surrounded by tall white pines, that they see the cottage clearly as a charcoal-coloured cedar shingle box. The lightness on the land is instantly evident in the construction: MacDonald cantilevered the form off concrete piers so that it floats over a whaleback outcropping of granite.


He carefully sequenced interior spaces to underscore a rich connection to the landscape. Entering into a simple vestibule from the east, visitors’ views are largely withheld to delay and therefore intensify their effect. Visitors then pass into the long kitchen, which doubles as a corridor along the back of the cabin, connecting the principal areas and ending in a cozy sitting cove complete with a woodstove and views to the extensive forest behind. This space serves as counterpoint to the big water views in the adjacent main room where some 42 linear feet of windows look west toward the open Go Home Bay channel. Here, the ground plane drops out of view, and the short middle ground is lost. This obscuring engages the visitor’s imagination, resulting in a more grand perception of the scale of the landscape, and defining one’s primary memory of the place.


Sustainable features lighten the building’s footprint. The main construction materials were coordinated on a single barge to reduce the embodied energy of transportation. Furthermore, MacDonald drew on his knowledge of the site’s weather patterns — the inner bay locale can be stiflingly hot in the summer due to a lack of airflow — to improve passive thermal comfort. The irrigated green roof ameliorates cooling, sunshades integrated with the envelope reduce heat gain, and the main space, capped by operable clerestories, transforms into a screened-in porch with lift and slide doors to improve cross ventilation. This porosity in the architecture helps the inhabitants mark the changes in the days, the seasons and the climate, ultimately forging a more profound connection to the land.”

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