Strathcona School is located in one of Winnipeg’s most impoverished districts providing a schoolyard which typically consists of asphalt, lawn and a play structure. Fostering a vision of holistic community “health and learning”, Folly Forest hopes to induce multi-layered transformations that would ultimately culminate in a stimulating outdoor environment for children and a vital public open space for the neighbourhood. The design intends to allow children and families to gain physical, social, emotional, and intellectual outdoor experiences. Folly Forest demonstrates the immense potential of landscape architecture as a spatial and social transformer.

Cheap and Risky

The total cost for the metamorphosis of the fifty years old asphalt is $20 per square meter. The controlled reuse, the second life of materials and their transformation into a new context, is key to this project. Folly Forest proves that projects do not need to have million-dollar budgets or use vast amounts of resources.

The project was realized as follows:

1. Perforate the Asphalt
2. Plant Trees
3. Fill Gaps
4. Sow Native Grasses
5. Welcome People and Earthworms

Gaps, Cracks, Fugues and their (Idea)- Ecological Application

The concept of perforating the existing asphalt showcases how a simple measure can take ecological and aesthetical effects and turn them into the formative design element. The ‘star-shaped fugues’ create free spaces for trees, water infiltration, soil organisms, plant communities, insect habitats, and all of which are on the ground where people go by foot, by bike or by service vehicle. The existing grassy cracks are integrated into this concept. According to this principle, the fugues became a composed piece of everyday ecology and biodiversity.

Materials and Plants

Bricks, logs, asphalt, and stones – four materials and two colours are the main elements on the ground. Silvery wooden beams and rusty cauldrons became objets trouvés and serve as ‘jackstraws’ and ‘lookout towers for earthworms.’ All materials are recycled or renewable. The star-shaped tree discs are pockets of good growing conditions to ensure that the trees feel comfortable in this environment. All tree discs are covered with permeable materials, with space has been left between the stones and logs for plants to grow. There is always enough space for life and freedom within limits between the gaps.

Mass Balance

Every bit of the excavated materials remained on site. The asphalt was converted into asphalt bricks and reused as a new paving cover for the tree discs. The excavation was dumped on site and shaped into humps. These humps became one of the children’s favourite spots. It is great to elevate yourself in an otherwise flat landscape.

Students Involved

Students from the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Manitoba were involved in tree pit paving and asphalt painting. They dug in Winnipeg clay, compacted Manitoban limestone, hammered on stones, bricks, logs and asphalt and used brushes and paint rollers to underline the impression of the large star-shaped figure. The only complaint was that the students would have to move back into the studio because of the forthcoming winter.

Lookout Towers for Earthworms

The first question we are often asked is about the rusty pieces: what are they for? Our whimsical response is that they are lookout 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 lookout towers, perhaps scientific evidence will come to light someday. 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.


The school and community have learned from the magical transformation of an asphalt court into a diverse environment that Folly Forest has the power to bring people together, building and enjoying community during the day and after school. The schoolyard is a vital meeting point within the community and has gained steam through reorganization and redesign. Folly Forest is a non-profit design which allows North End children and families to enjoy a similar privilege as South End families. It achieves beauty and learning through the life and health of an urban forest. The low budget was a challenge and an opportunity to explore fresh and uncommon ideas.

Project location: Strathcona School, Winnipeg, MB, Canada

Design year: Community collaboration process started in 2011

Year Built: Implementation started in 2013, still ongoing


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