A good school needs more than teachers, books, and classrooms. Well-designed learning environments are indispensable prerequisites for a fruitful education.

The University of Manitoba’s Science Courtyard on the Fort Garry Campus proves that students, faculty, and staff significantly benefit from an outdoor space that inspires imagination, generates resilience, fosters well-being, and performs as a living laboratory.

The formerly hidden courtyard transformed into the newest central gathering place of the Faculty of Science. Framed by lecture and laboratory buildings, the courtyard extends the existing student lounge and coffee shop and connects the hustle of the academic world with the lovely scenery of a picturesque group of mature trees and the mighty Red River.

A spacious platform of limestones and concrete stretches between the buildings. Situated away from shadow-casting buildings, people catch sun rays from early spring to late fall. This new stage knits the buildings and natural elements within this landscape together, creating a place of congregation and celebration.

This pro bono work allowed us to include applied research into the scope of this project. The non-standard amalgam of materiality, ecology, horticulture, soil science, entomology, and research drive the success of this project. The selection of materials embraces modest and locally available ingredients which follow an intentional choreography to transform the place into a biodiversity hotspot and Living Lab.

Soils and plants are applied as the building blocks of ecology and human health and
spark connotations to nature and wildlife. This creates the basis for an intuitive perception of this place as a habitat for many living beings, social interactions, and research.

A mineral top layer of washed granite sand covers the planting soil. The hypothesis is that native plants send deep roots through the dry layer to ensure adequate access to nutrients and water, while unwanted dormant seeds stored in the soil don’t germinate. This trial examines the feasibility of native plantings without pesticides, contributing to a body of horticultural knowledge, thus advancing the profession. After three summers of intensive monitoring, the ecological performance meets the expectations in its entirety. The grain size composition, humus contents, soil application, and installation method prepared the ground for an exceptional plant community with diverse habitats for the long run. Already the first year attracted a multitude of insects.

All on-site stones communicate the story of the Manitoban landscape genesis: Precambrian, Ordovician, and Post-Glacial. Formed by fire, ice, and water, Manitoba’s geomorphology is accessible here as a walkthrough archive. Students and faculty can use this place to hear the stones talk; decrypting history and stories recorded in the materials.

The courtyard produces a sense of ‘togetherness’. It is a place for learning, laughing, and a retreat for diverse living beings to pause and enjoy sun, silence, life, and breathing. Throughout the last three summers we tended to the courtyard weekly. Exercising continuous stewardship, we planted, seeded, watered, and transplanted. Students question why there aren’t more places like this on campus. The best feedback for us designers is to observe students, teachers, visitors, flowers, and insects inhabit our vision.

For us, soils and planting in real time are increasingly important in design. We see the future of urban landscapes to be built and sown, planted and tended. In our everyday practice, we believe in acting local while thinking global, and we advocate for humbleness and chlorophyll. Processes of aging and decay, speculative projections, uncertainties, and the deliberate integration of the uncontrolled are crucial to us. We integrate design experiments and interdisciplinary innovation into our landscape architecture practice to inform new methods and engage the public.

The academic environment at the University of Manitoba provides great freedom for working directly with communities. Our community-engaged scholarship, design and teaching approach encompasses a continuous interaction with people and an intensive exploration of their environments. This practice needs patience, time, and commitment from all sides. It promotes processes in which speculative ideas and uncertainties are explored by design.

An ordinary campus lawn transforms into a biodiversity hotspot; instantaneously attracting a multitude of insects and other visitors. The space invites an animated dialogue about nature and reflects on living in the Anthropocene. Generating buzz on campus, the project creates recognition for the impact of landscape architecture. The work won’t rescue the world but has a tangible impact on local communities, provide food for thought and inspire debates.

University of Manitoba
Fort Garry Campus
186 Dysart Rd,
Winnipeg, Manitoba
R3B 0S8

Design year: 2017-2019

Year Completed: 2023


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