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Lessons in landscape by students
by Jean-Pierre Chupin, published 2013-03-22
Organized in 2011 as a student led response to honour the late Professor Margery Winkler, resTOre is a design competition that addressed the problem of under-utilized green spaces in the greater Toronto area. More than a simple student competition, it was a triple act of generosity, creativity and pedagogy. The site chosen for the occasion, at the Bay Street/York Street exit of the Gardiner expressway, has resulted in three winning projects and two honorable mentions. These various lessons in landscape architecture offered by the students are anything but ordinary.

The students from the effervescent Ryerson University convinced Ken Greenberg, Pat Hanson and Janet Rosenberg to join the jury for the resTOre design competition in May 2011. These students wanted to pay tribute to a great teacher through an exercise dealing with the complex problematic of harsh sites in periphery of most North-American cities. In this case, the site is a wasteland adjacent to a highway ramp in Toronto. Whether the competition defined an architectural, urban planning or landscape question, the teams answered by mixing the three components. The winning or honored projects in this week's CCC update all correspond to different points of view, and are true lessons in landscape architecture.

Lesson #1: landscape as realism
Rahim's winning project creases the site in the center of the ramp in order to conceal a public market. The curved shape, while a tad awkward, captivated the jury by its feasibility – with regards to the program, the use of recycled materials and the livability of the design on every level. This lesson in realism is in stark contrast to the other competitors who played the urban utopia card. Is there anyone against public markets? The volutes on the roof evoke both protection and topography.

Lesson #2: landscape as sophistication
Ghantous' project, the runner-up, displays a daring project that is both aesthetic and critical, which is not found in the winner. By designing a “variable space”, the project aims to redefine the landscape as a balance between infrastructure, ecology and public space. The jury surely hesitated between the lesson in realism and the theoretical one, especially as the latter clearly recognized the technological esthetic of the “alpha city” in movement. In this proposal, the landscape is as much mineral and media-centered as urban and green.

Lesson #3: landscape as a matter of time
The third place proposal, from Karl van Es, revisits the tried and true theme of the urban and social incubator. It demonstrates a mastery of the tools and principles of the contemporary landscaper and an even bigger mastery of the tools of representation of the landscape architect. The project sculpts the landscape, as was recognized by the members of the jury, and pays particular attention to the deployment of the project in time. Some would say that it may have too much greenery for a highway site, that they do not specify how to deal with snow in winter, or that the furniture is taken directly from specialized magazines. However, the project manages to illustrate the temporal particularity of the landscape project.

To conclude this overview, Gugliotta, Chown and Walker's project is also important because it demonstrates the potential naiveté of this type of exercise. It treats the landscape as an “ecological poetry”. The presentation boards are as elegant as they are formal, which is not necessarily negative, except when you realize how unforgiving this site can actually be. The competitors strongly smoothed and blurred the site conditions, the background of their project, as if creating the ideal site. The fourth lesson, this time from the teacher to the students, is that the landscape is not always perfect!

Nevertheless, the quality of this student competition, ran by the students, can give some tips on professionalism to Canadian competition organizers for upcoming ideas competitions. It is a shame that they did not open the competition internationally, because more than 50% of the international Canadian competitions address questions of urbanism and landscape architecture. And while on the subject of statistics compiled by the Research Chair on competitions and contemporary practices in Architecture since 2012, we should point out that 30.9% of international competitions in Canada are idea competitions, whereas the ratio jumps to 36.8% in Ontario and 50% in Québec.

(Translated by Konstantina Theodosopoulos)
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