• Graham Ouwerkerk


As a firm with over a 30 year history in Southern Alberta not a day has passed without some interaction with the Coulees. Over time our minds began to wander and we couldn't help but ask; what would a home nestled in the Coulee be like? This design is the culmination of our dream.

The Coulee House is inspired by one of the most the unique topographical features of the Southern Alberta landscape. The Coulees snake their way from the mountains to the prairies serving as an oasis for wildlife all along the way. Over time the river at its base has carved out the earth to create a descent characterized by both steep banks and undulating slopes. As a result, the Coulee offers shelter and refreshment for all life that travels down to gather at the rivers edge. This downward journey inspired the homes earth bermed design. Similar to the descent into the Coulee, one must descend into the home which offers a central Gathering space at its base.

The undulation of the Coulee slope offers the singular opportunity for an earth bermed home to have exposure on three sides. Oriented on the compass points, the design conceptualizes both in form and program the Coulees route through the diverse landscape as it meanders from the Mountains, through the Foothills to the Prairies. The eastern quadrant, characterized in form by minimal linear apertures emulates the Prairie plains. The spaces of the Prairie Quadrant are focused on Productivity. The southern quadrant of the home formalizes the ascent into the Foothills as the home begins to reveal itself from the earth. Programmatically the spaces in this quadrant are intended for social Engagement and activity. Finally the western quadrant of the home dramatically lifts itself out of the earth to give way to peaked forms emulating the Mountains from whence the Coulee’s path began. The rooms within the Mountain Quadrant provide spaces of privacy and Retreat.


Conceptually the Coulee House, in form and function manifests the Coulee’s journey through the regional landscape. It begins with the descent into the Coulee itself, the heart of the landscape where the river runs and life Gathers. From the depth of the Coulee the landscape rises up to the Productive Prairie plains. Eventually the golden fields give way to Engage the rising slopes of the Foothills. Finally these hills climax at the peaks of the Mountain Retreat.



The program of the Coulee House is oriented around the homes Coulee core. This large two storey space is the Gathering area around which and through which the home functions. The defining feature of this space is the concentric sunken seating area which sits directly beneath the oculus above. Thereby even the center of this earth bermed home is flooded with natural light.

The rest of the Coulee House program was designed as a ring on each level surrounding this central Gathering space. These rings were then broken into four quadrants and oriented on the true compass points. The quadrants function are an homage to the evolution of the landscape that defines the Coulees path.

The Prairie Quadrant is orientated eastward and reserved for spaces of Productivity. Thereby reflecting the prairies agricultural use. These spaces include the office, gym and kitchen. As the home transitions around the Coulee core from East to West the design allows more and more natural light into the home. This entails that the office is serviced by a light well while the kitchen and gym are filled with light through limited horizontal apertures that are most effective at capturing the morning sun.

As the home transitions into the southern Foothills Quadrant, the spaces are directed towards Engagement. This includes social engagement in the dining and living room, but also engagement with nature through the patio and pool. The southern facade is slightly exposed from the earth and allows for larger apertures and even direct contact with the natural landscape on the lower level.

The Mountain Quadrant, oriented West, was conceived as a space of Retreat. Consequently, it encompasses the homes bedrooms and en-suite. These rooms were provided with large apertures in order to allow the occupants to enjoy the western sunset.

The northern quadrant of the home includes the auxiliary support spaces such as the garages and storage room. There is however the exception of the theatre. Though conceptually it is to be considered a space of engagement, it was placed in the northern quadrant to ensure proper functionality with the absence of natural light.


The Coulee House was designed as on off grid home utilizing a number of active and passive sustainable strategies. A series of solar panels sit atop the Coulee crest to ensure full exposure year round to the sun. The power from the solar panels will supply the homes electrical needs. Meanwhile heating and cooling is provided by the vertical Geo-exchange earth tubes beneath the home.

The Coulee House is designed to take advantage of passive strategies to deal with heat gains through the homes placement in the earth, window orientation and shading. The earth bermed design and subsequent green roof ensure the home is well insulated and the temperature is somewhat moderated by the earth around it. Due to the homes circular mass and excavated apertures, light and heat gains are managed as the sun follows its natural path. Vertical shading is provided by the apertures on the east and west sides to mitigate excess gain. Moreover, southern shading is managed through horizontal elements which shade in summer and allow light and heat to enter when the sun is at the low azimuth of winter. Horizontal shading is also employed on the western facade to mitigate overheating through the large western windows. The regions long summer days can contribute to significant gains on west facades. High efficiency glazing also helps ensure heat gains are managed effectively.

Finally the water supply is provided through a two part system. Storm water captured will be utilized to supplement grey water demand. The rest of the water required will be drawn from the electric well located at the Coulee base where the water table is highest.





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