Landezine
International
Landscape
Award
Straub Thurmayr

HUMBLE PROJECT THINKING

Our work reflects the reality that projects do not need to have millions of dollars or use vast amount of resources. Low budgets are normally a challenge for the composition and selection of materials, but our projects provide a pioneering approach with regard to budget, execution and outcome proving exemplary value.

Reclaiming the concepts of Arte Povera and Bricolage and their ecological application in the design process plays a major role in this. The controlled re-use, upgrading and transformation of materials into a new context is the key to some of our ‘little paradises’. Building materials utilized are leftovers that the city produces and throws out each day. The worth of the worthless achieves an important role and enriches a discussion on the state of urban nature for children, adults and butterflies.

Processes of aging and decay, speculative projections, uncertainties, and the deliberate integration of the uncontrolled are crucial to us. Gardens have always been experimental grounds for innovation and improvisation. We highlight gardens and open spaces as an archetypal conception of humans trying to coexist with nature and thus create a platform for the “post-boom generation” in search of moments of happiness. The golden rule is to find beauty in spontaneity and imperfection.

We integrate design experiments and interdisciplinary innovation into our landscape architecture practice to inform new methods and engage the public. The results are spatial experiences that employ alternative design and building techniques and open up new perspectives in the process of the making. As a form of ‘hands on architecture’ it encourages interested people to get involved without losing the integrity of the umbrella design.

Our work does not aim to make a spectacle of itself, but simply strives to give everyday spaces their own energy by injecting a sensual feel. None of these humble projects will rescue the world. The dimensions are lowly and the means are simple, but the design considerations are surprisingly complex and the realized spatial transformations are bloody cheap but sexy!

THIS IS HOW WE WORK

Drawing an Idea
Instead of a flood of images containing promises that are hard to keep, we push ourselves to concentrate firmly on an original idea in the form of a drawing or graphic.

Treating Existing Features with Respect
All creative concepts are oriented towards what is already present. New developments are carefully and respectfully integrated into the existing structures and into people’s lives.

Employing Risk over Routine
We perceive design as an evolving situation between clients and designers, in which we are united by curiosity, inquisitiveness and the willingness to take a risk.

Keeping Critical Distance and Good Humour
Sometimes we need to take a break from investigating the soul of architectural design and discuss the soul of a good glass of wine among friends instead. It is important to maintain some distance from our work in order to ensure we do not lose ourselves in it.

Reaching Discovery, Invention and Controlled Madness
There will always be conflicting urges between the imagination that we try to bring under control and the discipline that we strive to set free. A productive balance can therefore be found between spontaneous innocence, naïve optimism and the healthy scepticism that tempers any excess.

THE METAMORHOSIS OF A CANADIAN LAWN

Horticulture and garden design must inevitably address the relationship between the native and the foreign. So can the Canadian lawn tolerate or accept an immigration influx to take seed? The Fairy Lawn at the University of Manitoba Campus sought to test this question of the everyday and the extraordinary.

The ‘vaccination with bulbs’ experiment was considered as an extreme assault on the Canadian lawn. Elfenkrokus is the German name for Crocus tommasinianus and means fairy crocus. These fairies are not native to Manitoba, but are very common in Europe. Demonstrating that the new arrivals would have no invasive intensions, the issuing authorities gave the green light. After an extended adventurous voyage from Europe to New York they finally got their passports and arrived in Winnipeg.

By opening the doors for 20,000 flowers this project formed quite a spectacle in the first spring. The extravagant endeavour lead to an explosion of lilac-blue flowers on the lawn and transformed the space into a major focus of attention.

Although eagerly awaited by people and bumblebees, the fairies did not reappear the next spring. The reason for the failure is somewhat speculative. Maybe they didn’t agree with the commonly accepted lawn care, or perhaps they had never experienced snow in May.

Years after the experiment we are still asked how the fairies are doing. And this is perhaps the greatest sign of success: the fairies are still alive in people’s minds.

FOLLY FOREST _ A Dance Floor for 100 Trees

Rust. Cracks. Leftovers. These are the building blocks of the Folly Forest, located in one of Winnipeg’s underprivileged districts. The concept of perforating the existing asphalt showcases how a simple measure can take ecological and aesthetical effects and turn them into the formative element of design. The star shaped fugues create free spaces for trees, water infiltration, soil organisms, plant communities, insect habitats, and all of this on the ground where people go by foot, by bike or by car. According to this principle the fugues became a composed piece of everyday ecology and biodiversity.

The first question we are often asked is about the rusty pieces: what are they for? Our whimsical response is that they are look-out towers for earthworms. These producers of fertile soil need something to climb on to overview their flat landscape. But that is not the only purpose of the towers. The rusty bits could also be breeding places for dinosaurs! The material captures the sun, the heat incubates the eggs and the imagination does the rest…

Although there is no evidence that earthworms have ever been on the look-out towers, perhaps someday scientific evidence will come to light. In the meantime, the children will make their own stories, and the trees will mature, their root suckers cracking the asphalt from below like vegetative anarchists. The resulting cracks, gaps and fugues will create more and more freedom for unexpected life.

INSTANT GARDEN

A young family has just moved into their new home. It is already spring. Almost too late to start a garden project! One possible solution: INSTANT GARDEN.

Winnipeg is a city with annual periodic flood issues. Sandbagging is a part of people’s common memory. Every year walls of white sandbags are all over the place during the snowmelt. Sandbags can be reused if they are not contaminated.

The body of the garden is composed of these white sandbags and eatable greenery. The whole garden is like a reservoir for the rain runoffs of the surrounding areas. A sprinkler provides a cooling experience at times, with the overall result being a vegetable garden, a giant sand field or a private beach, depending on your viewpoint and interests!

The touchable surface of this garden is intentional: a tender semipermeable skin showing irritations, folds, color, aging, emotions and sunburn. We knew about the half-life of the material and we didn’t want to operate with creams. The skin fought the weeds back without any chemistry.

Stuffed in bags the sand becomes mixed with the in-situ soil. That’s a simple method for soil stabilisation and a measure to create an airy soil with high oxygen content, well drained and a pleasure to work with. A lush garden will grow the following spring. We are looking forward to a new dance of chlorophyll, kids and butterflies.

Maria’s Prairie Summits Challenge

How is it possible to translate a pedagogical concept into space today? Playing, teaching and learning amongst living plants still seems to be the archetypical notion of a ‘good learning place’- a setting in which all the senses and even the soul is stimulated in a playful and creative way.

Four years ago a prairie school following Maria Montessori’s teachings moved to a flat industrial area in Winnipeg and needed an outdoor extension of their classroom. All materials used in this project resonated with or originated from the Manitoban landscape that experienced millions of years of sediments deposited, removed and then deposited again. The creative bricolage played a major role in the design; the guiding rule is to find beauty in flaws and faults.

The hands-on architecture is characterised by the application of construction techniques and materials which allow volunteers including children, teachers, students and families of any skill and commitment level to get involved in building, while learning and laughing together. This project does not aim to reach an ideal state but rather to record the changes and everything that has happened to it.

This unique participatory method opens up new perspectives for the future. It inspires focused participation without losing the integrity of the original design. The result facilitates community, beauty and learning through the life and health of a non-domesticated environment.

Snow Academy

Baby, it’s not that cold outside! Winnipeg is a city where people’s individual calendar is comprised of nine months of winter and three months of bad skating. Everybody has to live with the extreme climate, even when it is 40 below! What could be more suitable for upcoming landscape architects than surveying ice and snow and developing a snow academy in this context? You can make more with snow than just a snowman!

Initially we gathered snow from parking lots, mainly due to the fact that this building material is cheap and abundant. Tons of this snow was poured on a riparian clearing along the Red River in an elliptical form. This classical shape acted for us as the white heart of the academy – radiating elegance and forming the centre for additional snow structures. A field of columns as well as a generous ‘dining room’ complemented the peaceful setting. The long dining table and seats were close to a large stock of trees providing shelter and discretion.

This space became a focus of attention for passers-by all winter long; a moment of diversion from everyday life, a slight flicker of interference in this landscape.

During wintertime we held events to present the Snow Academy to the public. A night studio illuminated the space and transformed the white into something magical. We cooked and invited our helpers and friends for dinner. Thirteen bonfires in a late April night was our way of saying good-bye in a dignified manner to our fleeting landscape. Gone, never to return!

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