Ryerson University’s Together Design Lab partners with Nishawbe Aski Nation to Design Appropriate Housing that Reflects the Needs of Indigenous Communities in Northern Ontario

Thunder Bay (March 26, 2019) – Today, Ryerson University’s Together Design Lab, in partnership with Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), facilitated a full-day interactive discussion about community-based housing design, collaboratively creating models to address the collective housing emergency declared in June 2018. This design charrette, which contributes to the development of NAN’s housing strategy, was executed as part of their Environment, Climate Change and Housing Symposium, happening March 26th and 27th in Thunder Bay.

“Housing is a universal human right, but most of our communities suffer from severe overcrowding and substandard living conditions that have resulted in a collective state of emergency across NAN territory. We are pleased to partner with Ryerson University to meet community-defined needs and support self-determination in the development of housing systems for our First Nations,” said NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.­­­­­­


Existing standardized models of housing found throughout the region have proven inappropriate for their climatic, cultural and geographical context; leading to the current crisis. By working directly with NAN community members, identified solutions ensure alignment between occupant needs and built form.

“Today’s exercise is an important step toward creating appropriate design in First Nations housing. We work directly with community members to co-create new methods for community-based housing design that ultimately, will result in a positive impact on both individual and community well-being,” said Dr. Shelagh McCartney, Assistant Professor, School of Urban and Regional Planning and Director of Together Design Lab at Ryerson University.

In addition to exploring new designs that can meet the diverse needs of NAN First Nations, this session looked to:

  • Recognize and address the housing concerns of those populations currently facing the greatest need
  • Test a new iterative design process which centres First Nations knowledge
  • Assist housing leaders in developing facilitation skills to allow for similar workshops to be run across NAN First Nations

This event is part of an ongoing partnership between Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Together Design Lab called the NAN Housing Strategy. Launched in September 2018, the NAN Housing Strategy is focused on creating occupant-focused housing assessments, determining localized housing need and developing housing action plans and solutions at the community and regional level. The Housing Strategy presents an alternative to the current government-based, top-down approach to housing systems.

Together Design Lab at Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning takes a collaborative approach to investigating and creating innovative solutions to housing issues within marginalized communities in Canada.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) represents 49 First Nation communities in James Bay Treaty No. 9 and Ontario portions of Treaty No. 5 – an area covering two-thirds of the province of Ontario in Canada.


Tamara Piche

Communications Officer, NAN

Phone: 807-623-8228


Downaload release here


Jessica Leach

Public Affairs, Ryerson University

Phone: 416-704-2166



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