When we envisioned the BESIDE Cabins project, our goal was to create more than just a wilderness retreat.
We wanted to reimagine the idea of “community”, and create a place where architecture and culture make nature the town square, so to speak. A place to gather, reflect, create new traditions.
A place where ancestral knowledge, new ideas, and modern activities and practices rub elbows. Where you can define yourself through your experiences rather than your exploits.
To do this, we brought together a cohort of architects, designers, anthropologists, biologists and thinkers and asked them to dream of a place that was different and unique. Somewhere at the crossroads of nature and culture.
Welcome to the first ever BESIDE destination.
Building bridges between people and nature
At what point did we lose sight of our private relationship with nature?
When settlers decided to reorient the land around them for agriculture? When the Industrial Revolution created a mass migration toward urban centres? When digital technology began imprisoning our attention?
It’s clear that rather than a single event, this has been happening continuously for some time. The rifts between us and nature have grown so wide that today, you'd think no bridges exist to connect us anymore.
Today, more than 82 per cent of North Americans live in a city. We’ve basically built fortresses to keep “the wild” as far out of our daily lives as possible. But the more we lose our basic skills — building a fire, catching and cleaning a fish, identifying healthy trees and harmful mushrooms — the closer to nature we want to be on our own time.
We have so many unique ties to nature. Sure, there’s outdoor recreation, but there’s also hunting, fishing, art, architecture, science, literature, design, and history. And on top of all of that, there are countless ways we can learn from the knowledge and experience of our elder communities how to strengthen these ties. The better we know nature, the more we’ll enjoy it and want to take care of it.
We are all crew mates on the same ship.
There’s something indescribable that happens when you find yourself in front of a mirror-flat lake, at the top of a mountain, in the heart of a dense forest, or barefoot in a park. All five of our senses come alive and feel sharper. Our taste buds perk up, our pupils dilate; we take in the world around us with every ounce of our being. Even if we rarely have these experiences, we can still sense the physical and mental changes occurring as we heal.
In fact, science has singled out some of the positive, even therapeutic, effects that exposure to nature has on us. Here are a few of them :
- An increased sense of well-being
- Increased creativity
- Lower stress levels and blood pressure
- Increased capacity for memory
Even more importantly, nature has the power to transform us, to help us perceive things differently, to give us the tools we need for what’s ahead. It allows us to take a break from humanity to remind us that we are not machines.
It’s safe to say that, as our lives become more and more hyperconnected via our machines, our need to disconnect — to recharge our batteries, our energy, our creativity — will only get stronger and stronger.
It has become increasingly rare to find the calm of a lake and the richness of a forest in close proximity to an urban environment. How many big cities can still say they’re surrounded by wild landscapes?
Architecture as a driving force
Architecture has the power to showcase nature and to help us contemplate it — it practically forces us to be still. It frames and magnifies the details we don’t see unless we’re looking for them. It blurs the lines between interior and exterior; it projects our gaze forward and guides our step.
The spaces we occupy have a strong influence on us, our happiness, and our demeanour. The built environment has a way of bringing out the different shades of our personality.
Fifty years ago, we started to build houses and apartments around our television sets. It’s the best way to live together without talking to each other. We have to bring back the hypnotizing fireplace that pulls everyone together. We have to bring human beings closer to other human beings, and we need design to help usher these changes into our lives — we need to rethink our living spaces to accommodate and foster exchange. An island where we can cook, eat, talk, without being burdened by the matrix of time. Living rooms turned into conversation pits, so that people actually look at each other and communicate.
Starting from a place of human-centred design, we aim to construct living spaces that truly generate an emotional response in us. We don’t want to erect buildings that people stare at for hours, but we do want you to be able to spend hours in a single room because it makes you feel something powerful.
Embracing our Nordic identity
In addition to bringing us closer to nature, architecture can help us embrace and appreciate the Nordic elements of our culture. Living in Québec, we’re blessed with painterly surroundings that change as the seasons turn. Through these windows to the outside, we can see rays of sunlight, tree branches dancing in the wind, animals foraging for provisions.
Our Nordic-style structures, like the fishing shelters of Bonaventure Island or hunting camps in Abitibi, stand still in the landscape and patiently await our return from our adventures.
Our traditions and activities have a distinctly Nordic appeal as well; so do our colours, textures, flavours, and odours. A wood-burning stove, fresh snow, a simmering pot, children playing in the rain, rosy cheeks, a warm bowl of chicken soup, a frosty spruce tree.
But unfortunately, we keep defining ourselves through others. All too often we talk so lovingly about the Scandinavian way of life, its culture, its design. It’s true that we have a lot in common: the temperature, the landscape, the land, the resilience, and the creativity. But we also must learn to openly love our own identity and cultivate our Nordic-ness for what it is.
Let’s love our black spruce and our cedar like they’re some exotic fragrance, accept that we have four seasons and that we’re fortunate to have them, and enjoy the contrasting experiences our weather patterns afford us — by placing a candle on the windowsill in January, or diving into a lake during a heat wave.
Our landscape, our land, our materials, our know-how, our artisans, our cultures are all Nordic. And by understanding this shared heritage, we can build a future that’s our own.
A balance between hard and soft skills
In the space of barely two generations, we have shifted from manual to intellectual labour, and we thought we were doing it in the name of comfort and freedom. Instead, we have quickly become trapped inside our own minds, at odds with our invisible troubles. We’re realizing that psychological fatigue has dire consequences.
Whether cleaning a fish, tying a fly, starting a fire, picking a mushroom, or orienting yourself in a forest: when was the last time you made something out of nothing or fixed something with your bare hands or used a skill that has been passed down to you through the generations?
Little by little, knowledge from our elders is being lost. While we overtax our brains, we brush aside our dexterity and agility. Let’s take the time to stop this shift before it’s too late. Let’s listen to those who came before us. Let’s welcome their skills to bring us closer to nature and our roots with open arms.
Getting to know our heritage is important, to preserve our culture and find our balance. Together, we can facilitate the transfer of knowledge by creating spaces and tools that encourage people to connect.
Coming together to write new narratives
It’s easier to picture a future on Mars than to re-establish ecological balance on earth. For decades we’ve daydreamed about life on another planet and made movies featuring intergalactic settlers. This collective narrative has become entrenched in our imaginations. And yet, interplanetary existence is not happening any time soon.
Meanwhile, what about a world where people coexist with nature, where togetherness is the norm and where personal health takes precedence over economic wealth? This is so far removed from our collective imagination that we think of it as utopian, if not totally impossible.
We need to enlist thinkers, creators, and entrepreneurs who can envision an earthly future. And we need to call upon writers, artists, and communicators who can tell stories with the power to propel us in that direction.
We need to dream as one and come up with concrete examples, even simple ones, of what a different world could look like.
BESIDE Cabins: A project with a vision
The BESIDE Cabins project sets out to make this vision real: we are designing a place in nature that will bring together the members of a community in an architectural framework that encourages creativity, idea sharing, and the creation of new traditions. This project stems from the desire to be closer to nature, to embrace our Nordic identity, and to use architecture as a bridge that connects us with both community and nature.
We’ll be able to appreciate and protect a territory that spans more than 900 acres; to ensure the safety of majestic spaces with the potential to impact people in many different ways; to preserve two lakes so that we never forget what it’s like to find ourselves on a crystal-clear body of water surrounded by giant leafy trees.
We’ll be able to experiment, learn, and share, right in the middle of the forest. We’ll learn loads of new skills through participation. We’ll hone our hard and soft skills. We’ll get to know a space that is situated between nature and culture — and right outside Montréal.
BESIDE Cabins is a place where solitude and togetherness are neighbours — involving colleagues, families, friends, and strangers. Where ideas are shared around a campfire and a nice bottle of whisky. A kind of WeWork in the woods — minus the work!
A place to dream up new narratives while living the dream.
— Jean-Daniel Petit
Reserve Your Cabin Today
Availability is very limited, and we won’t be expanding the project beyond its current vision. Contact us now to secure your place on the waitlist and to get the latest news.