Designing a landscape for learning

Comfort from a canopy

The street-style lampposts and casual seating with bike parking create a safe and informal environment for students to socialise together beneath the shelter of an overhanging roof.
The street-style lampposts and casual seating with bike parking create a safe and informal environment for students to socialise together beneath the shelter of an overhanging roof.

The addition of trees to a landscape is not purely an esthetic decision; they also serve as functional elements to improve the health and well-being of the end-user. According to research from Bern University (Switzerland), published in the International Journal of Public Health in 2010, the benefits of green spaces include restoration and recovery from mental fatigue and stress, cultivation of positive emotions, promotion of physical activity, and social integration.

The Red Maple grove provides a soothing canopy of leaves that not only reflects York University’s Canadian and sustainable credentials, but also gives students the opportunity to interact with nature, on the doorstep of the new student centre. If the building was designed as a ‘home,’ the landscape was designed as the home’s ‘front and backyard’.

Constructing a collaborative environment

The theme of interaction and collaboration was also strongly reflected in the project team’s working methods. Through an integrated project delivery (IPD) approach with building information modelling (BIM) the entire design team was able to develop the design from concept to construction in a three-dimensional model, thereby allowing the client team to visualize the design as it evolved.

This approach has the added advantage of allowing the design team to see the project exactly as it would be built, allowing for quality control (QC), and reduced change orders for the university during construction. Upon project completion, the complete digital model, including all landscape architectural features, was turned over to York University, who can use it to track energy performance and maintenance, as well as support research.

The 11,706-m2 (126,000-sf) student centre officially opened in September 2018. This project serves as an example of the benefits of a contemporary, collaborative construction effort between the client, other stakeholders, end-users, and the design and construction teams.

Scott Torrance, OALA, CSLA, GRP, is senior director of landscape architecture at FORREC Ltd., a global entertainment design company. An award-winning landscape architect with more than 22 years’ experience, he leads FORREC’s landscape architecture work for Ontario-based clients.

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