Aboriginal people have long been stewards of their lands and resources. The people and the land are interconnected through a relationship based upon respect and caring for the earth and all its life forms. Land stewardship means taking responsibility for the well-being of the environment and protecting or restoring the land, water, air and all living things, including the people.

I have wanted to share with everyone the spectacular  Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Center, where I have worked for the past four years. Both as a student biologist and cultural interpreter, where I am certified as a venomous snake handler! So when our first 2013 Miss Teen Canada – World Blog Network Assignment Number One, is to profile one environmentally green building in your region of Canada. The Osoyoos Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Center is a premier example.


Being Green has gained world attention over the years and is one of the most rapidly growing areas in building and architecture. With many terms like environmentally friendly, sustainability, energy efficient, eco-friendly and the word “green” used to describe  a vast number of products and materials. Understanding what makes a building “green” can be a little confusing. The growing interest in green building concepts and practices has encouraged a number of organizations to develop green building standards, codes and rating systems.

“Built Green” and ” LEED” (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) are two such rating systems. Green building rating systems provide consumers, building professionals and government regulators with a means to evaluate the environmental impact of a particular structure. The Canada Green Building Council is a not-for-profit, national organization that has been working since 2002 to advance green building and sustainable community development practices in Canada.Green rating systems award points for optional building features that support green design, in categories such as location and maintenance of building site, conservation of water and energy, choice of building materials such as a white roof , and occupant comfort and health. The more points, the greener the building!


 ‘Sustainable Site’, minimize stormwater runoff, encourage carpooling and bicycling, increase urban density and green space

 ‘Water Efficiency’, pertains to reducing water consumption by providing guidelines for improved landscaping use, collection of rain water, reusing grey water, waste water treatment and efficient fixtures.

‘Energy & Atmosphere’, reduce building energy consumption, use renewable energy, eliminate ozone-depleting chemicals, commission building systems.

 ‘Material and Resources’, minimize construction waste, re-use existing building façade, use locally recycled and salvaged materials such as rubber roof compounds, use renewable construction materials

 ‘Indoor Environmental Quality’, incorporate daylighting, use low off-emitting materials, provide operable windows and occupant control of work space, improve delivery of ventilation air

‘Innovation in Design’ incorporate innovative environmental features not covered in other areas, develop a green education plan

‘Regional Priority’ target issues of environmental importance based on geographical locations as well as designing and constructing more durable buildings

The award winning NK’MIP Desert Cultural Centre: Celebrate the Legends, the Land and the People. The Centre celebrates thousands of years of a precious Okanagan First Nations culture and habitation on desert lands.

 “Sustainability may be defined as meeting the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”

Nk'mip Desert Cultural Center designed as a natural extension of the Landscape.

  • Architect: Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden Architects + Urbanist

The NK’MIP desert lands are one of Canada’s three most endangered ecosystems and home to many endangered plant and animal species. The Centre provides on-site cultural tours, programs, self-guided nature trails, interpretive sites, visitor programs, rappelling in the desert, a gift shop, cultural events and an exciting film called “Coyote Spirit” along with other multimedia productions. It is also home to rattlesnake research and tagging programs, native sculptures and interactive displays reflecting the unique and contemporary experience of a desert centre based on the rich heritage of the Okanagan people. The Centre’s mission is to promote respect and understanding of the living culture of the Okanagan People and conserve and interpret Canada’s only desert.”

Largest Rammed Earth Wall in North America

The building is partially buried on the eastern side as it nestles into the highlands. Partially submerging the building reduces extremes in temperatures from one season to the other and from day to night in the summer months. The orientation of the western, rammed earth wall is an integral part of the entrance to the Cultural Center as it insulates the Center from the summer sun and as it retains heat during the cool nights and cold winters. Minimal windows on the south and west sides of the wall, reduces heat loss and gain while framing specific views to Lake Osoyoos A curve in the rammed earth wall provides protective shading for a courtyard on the south side. Office and service areas open onto the courtyard for daylighting, natural ventilation and views.

Beautiful coloration of Rammed Earth Wall

Rammed earth is an ancient building technique updated for modern construction. Each layer made of concrete mixed with local soil and mineral pigment, is poured and tamped down separately. The thick walls have a layer of added insulation and steel reinforcement, greatly increasing energy efficiency and earthquake resistance An R-value of R33. The wall retains warmth in the winter and insulates the building against the summer heat. The soil used is local. Rammed earth is an intelligent choice to conserve wood in a climate where wood is scarce.The earth and concrete mix was laid down in reusable forms and tamped with a pneumatic tamper to approximately 50% of its original height. There is no off-gassing from the wall. The wall did not require additional interior or exterior finish to complete it. The horizontal pattern of the formwork and the layers of the soil express the geological sedimentation of the desert land

Inside Entrance and Coyote Gift Shop

The wood used as a decorative accent in the building is local blue-stained pine that has been discoloured by microscopic fungi, giving it a unique blue tint. The centre was one of the first to promote the use of blue-stained wood from beetle damaged trees.  The selective use of ‘blue stain’ pine for exterior cladding and soffits, as well as for interior millwork and other finishes. The material is milled from trees that have died prematurely as a result of mountain pine beetle infestation, itself a by-product of global warming that has had a devastating effect on the forests in the interior of BC, including those in the area around Osoyoos.

Rooftop view of Osoyoos

Twenty cm (8 in.) of soil lies atop the concrete roof and has been planted with desert vegetation, creating a “green roof”. The overall aesthetic of the building is intended to be a seamless extension of the desert environment.The green roof, covering the entire building, provides efficient insulation, reduces the heat island effect, reduces stormwater runoff, retains water in the desert, restores desert habitat by permitting the replanting of native species displaced during construction, and renders the building practically invisible in the landscape

Hot water radiant piping located within the floor is an energy efficient means of heating the building during the winter, while cold water radiant ceiling pipes cool the building in summer, eliminating the need for air conditioning. Unlike conventional HVAC forced air systems, radiant systems use a water-based approach. Tempered water runs through a series of pipes embedded in the ceiling to gently heat or cool the facility using low-intensity radiation. As a thermal conductor, water is 3,000 times more efficient than air – resulting in substantial energy savings, while creating a higher quality indoor environment.

An outdoor air displacement ventilation system was also installed to complement the radiant heating and cooling system. The underfloor air distribution system supplies 100% fresh outdoor air at the occupant level through floor grilles. The supply air can be introduced at a temperature that is closer to the desired room temperature for substantial energy savings.The return air located at ceiling level takes advantage of the natural stack effect occurring from hot air buoyancy. The system needs no mechanical fan power and also works to remove indoor pollutants and odours from the space without re-circulating the stale air supply.

Recirculating Water Channel

Water is scarce in this region, and supply for the building comes from an on-site well. Demand is reduced by about 40% by incorporating low-flow faucets, waterless urinals, and dual flush toilets to minimize water waste, a conservational feature vital in the desert. The outdoor landscape is wild native or dryland plants that do not require irrigation.  Stormwater runoff from the roof and site is collected in a retaining pond on the site and in an underground cistern.The retaining pond is used to support native plant and animal species for education. Water from the cistern is piped to a water channel which runs along the rammed earth wall in the entry sequence to highlight the importance of water in the desert.

Green Building Awards in Canada 2013

SAB Awards 2008 winner: Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre Video:

rubber roof on a desert culture center for hot rain


I have really enjoyed sharing with you this beautiful building that I have had the pleasure of working at for the past four years. I love coming to work here and being apart of this incredible place. Although I knew the basics of the unique building and design, I have also learned so much!

Shelby LePage xoxo

Written by: Shelby LePage

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