Neoma: First-of-its-kind, made-in-Calgary solution to downtown affordable housing

Over the past year, our team of talented architects, interior designers, architectural technologists and contract administrators have been at work designing Calgary’s newest affordable housing project in the heart of downtown.

New beginnings

Neoma began in late 2020 as the brainchild of HomeSpace and Inn From the Cold, two phenomenal Calgary-based housing resources. Their vision to create hybrid shelter, transitional and low-income housing space in Calgary’s downtown core is already transforming our downtown communities. Neoma, named for the new moon, symbolizes new beginnings and a fresh chance at life for families in need.

The global events in early 2020 made an impact on corporate workflow and office environments worldwide that altered the way we value downtown metropolitan spaces. This shift towards remote and hybrid work kindled new concepts for Calgary’s downtown culture, making room for Calgarians to call these spaces home.

Photos by Mariah Lee Studios

This reimagining of downtown office spaces was borne of a vision for renewal, both in terms of community and infrastructure. Bernadette Madgell of HomeSpace and Heather Morley of Inn From the Cold had the vision to transform vacant office environments, creating safe, reliable and accessible homes for low-income Calgarians. Their vision and commitment to bettering our community for all who call it home provided a clear design ethos that was carried through each phase of this project.

People-first architecture and interiors

Artistic design elements and programming promote belonging and representation for Neoma’s diverse residents. A magnificent 15,000-square-foot exterior mural—the largest in Alberta—enriches the west wall. Internally, vibrant murals and artwork from 65 local artists adorn Neoma’s walls with creativity. Artists gathered supplies for Neoma’s art room, where residents can take classes and work on personal art projects. Neoma’s tenants will bring new life and community into Calgary’s formerly buttoned-up Downtown Commercial district.

Proximity to transported resources was crucial in the foundations of our city, the economy of which was largely built on agriculture. While our city has shifted in many ways and continues to meet challenges with innovation at every turn. Project Thrive and the City of Calgary’s downtown office to residential conversion initiative is a phenomenal example of our ability to work nimbly, innovating our city to meet each new challenge.

On the corner of 10th Ave and 7th Street NW Calgary stands a 10-storey sky rise, now clad with bright white and natural wood grain. When looking a little closer you’ll notice colourful reveals on each window inset, creating a sense of place and enabling tenants to point out their homes from the exterior. It’s details like this one that set Neoma apart from conventional office conversion projects. The commitment to design that is not only technically beautiful but, more importantly, feels like home to its residents.

Office to Accessible Housing

With sustainable design in mind, our team worked to reconfigure existing spaces, creating home from what was formerly office space and reclaiming the existing infrastructure for its next life. There are unknowns associated with any renovation—what surprises are lurking behind the walls? But our team’s methodical approach at finding ways to transform floor plates helped create 82 units of affordable housing as well as a childcare centre, family emergency shelter and programming space. With comfort and community building in mind, we took a trauma-informed approach to communal space planning. The Inn From the Cold and HomeSpace teams were integrally involved in designing each space, proving the unique amenities and services they have to offer tenants while maintaining a homey feel from the outside, in.

Through this highly collaborative process, a year of hard work ended in a purpose-built environment that supports and reinforces best practices in trauma-informed care for families. Neoma welcomes visitors and tenants, centering warmth and hominess from the exterior and throughout. IFTC and HomeSpace’s programming supports families in a dignified and culturally-sensitive environment with access to emergency shelter, integrated support services and affordable housing under one roof.⁠ This holistic approach ensures families achieve and maintain housing stability, breaking the cycle of homelessness in our city.


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