​Experience as paramedic spurs future architectural technologist to create winning design

Tamara Bell and her daughter Summer.
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by Helen Hall
Kitchener Citizen
November 4, 2021

​​​ In her 15 years as a paramedic Tamara Bell has seen people living in cramped and inaccessible conditions.

​In addition to working full-time and being the mother of three, Bell is transitioning from one career to another as she is also a full-time student in Conestoga College’s Architecture Construction Engineering Technology program. Her passion for health care was behind her award-winning design in Kitchener’s Backyard Homes Competition. Bell won a $2,000 prize coming in first place in the student category.

​Bell, who lives in Wellesley, designed a 75 square metre tiny home, with smart home features and locally sourced building components. The design is fully compatible with the latest accessibility legislation and is suitable for users of all ages and abilities. The home could be for a senior, or for someone supporting relatives who are living with them.

​​Bell said she is “using what I have learned” working as a paramedic to design more accessible and affordable housing. “I have seen people sleeping in beds in the living room,” she explains.

​​Bell will graduate in April 2022.

​​“It’s hard to think about not being a paramedic anymore,” Bell said.

​​However, she said she hopes when she moves on to her next career, that she will be able to work in creating affordable and accessible housing.

​​“I will be looking for the right spot for me,” she said.

​​The backyard homes competition challenged the community to design concepts for a backyard home in Kitchener, while telling a story about who the home was designed for. Winners were chosen in four categories - youth, adult, post-secondary and professional.

​​Kitchener’s zoning bylaw, user experience, affordability and sustainability were all considered in selecting the winners.

​​ “Residents across Kitchener are looking for alternative and innovative ways to make home ownership more affordable and attainable,” said Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic. “The backyard homes competition was a fun and creative way to address this, and we are thrilled to see how residents are helping shape the vision for backyard homes with great and achievable ideas.”

​​ The winning designs reflect a diverse set of design considerations and uses. A jury panel made up of a planning professor from the University of Waterloo, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Waterloo, two professors from Conestoga College, and a representative from the City of Kitchener reviewed all the submissions. The panel awarded first place prizes of up to $2,500 in each category, along with several honourable mentions.

​​ “The design competition offered an exciting opportunity to apply new ideas, to think outside the box and be creative,” said Ward 6 Councillor and Chair of the Planning and Strategic Initiatives Committee, Paul Singh. “Designing for a location that has a personal connection provided extra incentive - a chance to create something innovative, but also practical, for the person who would live there.”

​​ Kitchener City Council recently approved a new zoning bylaw amendment that allows for detached additional dwelling units – often called tiny homes or backyard homes. This allows residents who meet the requirements to build backyard homes, coach homes, laneway suites, or tiny homes.

To see the winning Backyard Home designs, visit ​​To learn more about Kitchener’s housing strategies, visit the city’s website and search Housing for All.