LILA 2019 Winner in Private Gardens

ROOTED IN CLAY _ WY Garden Winnipeg by

Private Gardens / Private Gardens / Canada / Built in 2018 /

If we can say that a private garden is an experimental place for domestic life, Rooted in Clay is just that. As the name suggests, the project is about taming a very dynamic topological context and at the same time keeping the feeling of the place wild. Considering the ordinary Canadian suburb, this garden is a surprise. Furthermore, the project reuses city’s leftovers, mainly wooden slabs. Rooted in Clay is about engineering, recycling, and, above all, experience. It accomplishes its goals effectively and gracefully through a sequence of shifting situations. Nature is an ambiguous term, but in a context of suburban residential gardens full of order, Rooted in Clay introduces a relaxed, more natural atmosphere. As such it is a poetic statement and a convivial critique.

- from the award statements

Seasonal changing levels, annual floods, ongoing erosion and high concentrations of red sediment, the Red River in Winnipeg is a highly dynamic, urban water body. How do we deal with this energy on a beautifully situated river plot? Our design for the WY garden is a sensitive response to this topological context.

We planted a ‘forest of roots’ stabilizing the garden’s ground. The species-rich meadow between house and river offers the perfect get-away spot for visitors and inhabitants of this garden. Salvaged wood beams painted in primary colours are placed as diving boards or picnic blankets in a sea of grasses. In the winter the snow nestles between the blades of grass remaining fluffy and creating a perfect habitat for a wide variety of small mammals and insects to dig a network of tunnels. These pukak dwellers spend their winters under the snow. Pukak is an Inuit word for the complex layer of ice crystals and open space that forms at the base of snow pack. Where there is little vegetation, such as on a lawn, no pukak layer forms.

The river meadow provides a pleasant and warm welcome already at the entrance. A generous outdoor ‘dining room’ with a long table makes for a peaceful setting. By the way, not a single nail or screw was used. Only gravity joins beams and boulders, roots and clay.




We live in times where the massive consumption of resources and the constant production of waste can no longer be tolerated. Designers of built environments have a responsibility to find and implement creative responses to this self-destructive exploitation of limited resources. This forces a radical paradigm shift for designers of built environments towards a building culture of improvisation, repairing and recycling.

The WY Garden is an experimental attempt to prove that complex projects do not need to use vast amount of resources. Rooted in Clay is an adventurous experiment in conformance with place, time, climate, plants, materials, soil, light, water, and budget. ‘Building materials’ for the project were leftovers that the city produced and threw out. The controlled re-use, upgrading and transformation of materials into a new context was the key to this poetic design statement.

Our planting design is considered to be a friendly assault on the Canadian lawn and has its sight on a new ecological aesthetic. It follows a particular botanical choreography created to protect the land from erosion and to provide habitats for all living things. It cleverly bypasses the city bylaw that insists on a maximum height of six inches for grass. With the monoculture of trimmed lawns cultivated on neighbouring properties, the community bylaw inspectors are perplexed by our atypical garden. The grass cannot be decreed a neglected lawn. No rule is broken. No ticket issued.

Project location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Design year: 2012 – 2018
Year Built: 2012 – 2018


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