Jul 19, 2011

Visible and Understandable

Place de l'Acadie, Montreal
Some people never get tried of working alone.  I am not one of those people.  As a garden designer, collaboration with clients is usual, but not collaboration with other designers.   The collective nature of work, in general, is of interest to me.  NIPPaysage is a landscape architecture firm out of Montreal  I wanted to know more about.   Especially because of its shared synergy.  Mathieu Casavant was kind enough to answer a few questions.

PO:  I read on your website that NIPPaysage consider themselves a "new wave of landscape architects."  In what way?  How would you define the previous profession of landscape architects?

MC:  Good question!  After working for a couple of years with well-established firms in the US, we decided to establish our own practice back in Montreal, which was kind of gutsy considering we didn't have much experience or know the local market. 

Montreal is trying to define itself as a design city, but there are only a few new landscape architecture firms that have started up since we graduated...back in 1998!  It is sad to say we can probably count on the fingers of one hand how many have survived and still offer fresh and inspired work.
Le Bon Arbre Au Bon Endroit
Jardin Metis, Canada
A temporary garden presented in collaboration with Hydro-Quebec for the Metis Internatinal Garden Festival.  Le bon arbre au bon endroit reminds us that planting the right tree in the right place makes good sense.  Above. thousands of birds perched on dozens of cables surround he garden.  On the ground, the project has evolved over a three year period:  2008-wire reel garden, 2009-hammock garden and 2010-giant picnic table garden.

So I guess that even after 10 years, we still offer something new because more established firms have to keep ourselves exposed to new challenges and not repeat ourselves, which means we are always discovering new aspects of the profession.  This keeps the energy level up and things never get dull or predictable. 

Currently, we are simultaneously working on a temporary urban art piece (paint job) for a downtown plaza, the delicate restoration of the cross on the summit of historic Mount-Royal and a large brand new mixed use development for 10,000 people near Delhi (India).

Dealing with the various scales, realities and contexts is really exciting and allows us to avoid niche-based recipes.  We want to integrate sustainability components in our work, not only in a functional way, but in expressive ways, as a design starting point, like for example in "Place de l'Acadie" Park.

PO:  Can you elaborate on your process?  How does the  collaborative approach work.  How do you reach consensus?

MC: Over the years, I think our process has evolved to become more effective, but in general it remains a highly collaborative effort. 

We generally begin by talking and sketching about a new project.  This setting is ideal because it is improvised, people are generally relaxed and it allows us to consider the job without spending too much time analyzing the site survey or the detailed program. 

This is an opportunity to express whatever is on our mind, whether a large site consideration or a specific detail or material that seems appropriate.

Surprisingly, our discussions almost never involve negotiation or heavy compromise.  There is a strong belief that the best possible idea will feel "right" to everybody around the table...if someone is uncertain, we'll usually change the whole design orientation until we all feel it is "the one".  The basic respect and appreciation between all of us is really what guides the discussion.  If an idea is not good enough for one of us, it's probably not good enough for NIP, so we are happy to explore other directions.

Paysage Lumineux, Public Market
Boucherville, Quebec, Canada
Design and conception of art work for the new market building.  On an angular steel structure, 700 colorful jars create a canvas of the regional pastoral landscape inspired by the popular game 'Lite Brite' to represent agricultural patterns of the region

We also take pleasure superimposing anyone's lines to a drawing.  Once the design orientation has been established, someone will become the project manager and supervise its evolution from original sketch to real job!

PO:  What do you consider the areas you have the most interest in? 

MC:  We are passionate about the jobs that allow us to study and express beauty of a site, even if it has a reputation of being forgotten, ugly or useless.  Of course, we have been integrating sustainability as a large aspect of our work, but the focus remains the way people use and perceive a place...We want people to get excited about the space, to wonder what has happened here, what is going on...

We are firm believers that our work as landscape architects must be visible and understandable from the public's point of view...we are not interested in smudging the difference between nature and artifice, we want to highlight the difference!  We want to create projects that offer a new experience to the visitor, spaces that challenge perceptions and senses.


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