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We Are All One – a Community Enhancer

The nə́c’aʔmat ct Strathcona Library / YWCA Cause We Care House project is a unique solution to Vancouver’s troubling affordable housing problem

Vancouver, BC


The first city building to be named in Coast Salish n?´c’a?mat ct (Musqeum for ‘We Are One’) creates a welcoming, life-filled, and well-loved community gathering place. The programme contributes to strengthening the social fabric of the city’s Strathcona/Downtown Eastside community by building personal, neighbourhood, and institutional relationships, and supporting the ongoing revitalization of East Hastings Street. On any given day, this project exemplifies the Canadian way: diverse peoples of all races, genders and classes converging. The design and position of the project has proved successful in its goal to provide an inclusive space for all; one that serves not only the immediate community, but that attracts visitors from neighbouring communities who would otherwise not visit the Downtown East Side, an oft forgotten neighbourhood.

Community Enhancement

The project is on a stretch of East Hastings that needed a degree of brightness. The project team also recognized that it was important, as a contribution to this street, that the library in particular be visible to the public, inviting them in to experience the amenities. Many would look at this neighbourhood and naively assume it to lack a social fabric. That is a common mistake. The Downtown Eastside is chock full of personality, and Strathcona is home to many families. The building’s dynamic front and back façades speak to the vibrant existing community of the Downtown East Side, one that has yet to be manifest in structural form

Inclusive Design

The open-concept is layered with lower book cases and a centralized library kiosk to enhance sightlines, enabling passive security. To delineate the sub-sections for the differing demographics’ needs and uses, designers turned to floor patterning, lighting, and furniture to guide users. The distinct environments are expressed through age-appropriate furniture and intentionally shaped seating arrangements: the kids area is open and encourages social interaction and storyline; the teens section has social lounges and nooks for solitude–we all know a teen appreciates their alone time–and the adult section is adorned with First Nations art and elegant seating, dubbed 'the living room.' A wood-slatted wall runs from the front entrance to the end of the library, warming the room, and creating a seamless visual journey. This ribboning installation also doubles as noise absorption, quieting the two-storey space. A suspended counter runs the full length of the faceted glazing looking over the street– connecting people inside to passersby’s.


The YWCA Cause We Care House that occupies the upper floors of the project is not a public facility. It is a low-income, supportive housing facility for single mothers and their children. Amenities are both dignified and beautiful, curated specifically for the enhancement of all occupant’s lives. The project provides 21 affordable housing units for single women and their children on levels 3-6 and health and social services spaces (medical clinic, counselling, group activity rooms) on level 2. These spaces are located along the second level spine that has windows for visual connection to the library below, culminating in a glass box that juts out over the street as a beacon.

Finishing Touches

Going against the grain of typical SRO layouts and materials, units are durable and feature materials that dignify the space and make inhabitants feel like they could be in any condo in downtown Vancouver. True home-like feelings are achieved through the wood-vinyl flooring, millwork, and bathroom finishings. The layout of the building, with its family feel and communal patio promotes gathering in the pursuit of invigorating the internal neighborhood. To provide continuity throughout the space, the interior design team took cues from the architects’ external design vocabulary, and brought the outside in through the colours of the residences’ doors. This means that each family has a unique door, marking their own home.

Project facts

Services: Architecture, Interior Design
Client: The City of Vancouver / Vancouver Public Library / YWCA Metro Vancouver
Size: 42,388 sq ft
Completion: 2017
Cost: $12 M