Landscape or architecture?

Professor Marc Boutin’s award-winning designs explore the potential of public spaces.

By Erin Guiltenane
January 2015


Collaboration, culture, and the contemporary city — these are the design foundations at the marc boutin architectural collaborative (MBAC), the award-winning architectural design firm founded by Marc Boutin, associate professor in the Faculty of Environmental Design. 

Anyone who travels down Memorial Drive immediately sees these principles on display in the iconic Poppy Plaza, perhaps one of the most recognizable MBAC designs. Poppy Plaza is the first in a series of planned public spaces along the Memorial Drive Landscape of Memory, a 9.5-km pathway that runs parallel to Memorial Drive and is designed to honour the sacrifices of Canadians during wartime.

Not long after its inauguration in June 2013, Poppy Plaza was recognized for excellence at the national level. More recently, the plaza was ranked fourth in the world by the Landscape Architects Network in the Top 10 World Class Landscape Architecture Projects of 2014.

“We are grateful for the recognition, but particularly excited that the City of Calgary’s recent investment in our city’s public realm is being recognized internationally, says Boutin. “Truly, this is part of a great step to make our city livable and culturally and socially relevant. To this end, we thank our clients the City of Calgary.”

Another recent project attracting accolades is MBAC’s work on the design of the Edmonton Valley Zoo Children’s Precinct alongside its collaborators, the Portico Group. This project, commissioned by the Edmonton Valley Zoo in its effort to establish itself as a leader in conservation, environmental stewardship, and education, earned MBAC its eighth Canadian Architect Award of Excellence in January 2015.

While zoo design has historically opted for a distinct division between human visitors and the zoo’s animal inhabitants, more recent design approaches have considered the importance of immersion as a means of enriching the educational value of exhibits, while simultaneously improving the living conditions of the resident animals.

"The project is an incredible opportunity to explore and deliver an immersive, integrated landscape that blurs the distinction between architecture and landscape into a single, orchestrated experience . . . "

“Our clients have been extremely supportive and understand the potential of design to offer new paradigms in the relationship between animal, ecology, and viewer,” Boutin explains. An immersive experience, where animals are engaged on their own terms and in their own habitats, was designed from a child’s eye view. In using this approach, the MBAC design team — which included EVDS alumni Tony Leong and Richard Cotter — emphasized the interconnectivity between humans and animals. “The project is an incredible opportunity to explore and deliver an immersive, integrated landscape that blurs the distinction between architecture and landscape into a single, orchestrated experience for the zoo visitor,” notes Boutin.

Marc Boutin is currently teaching the Intermediate Architectural Design Studio and makeCalgary Charrette Seminar at EVDS. Visit the marc boutin architectural collaborative website for more about the Edmonton Valley Zoo project, Poppy Plaza, and other projects. 

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