Nature as Mentor

Learn more about Nature as Mentor

Act I / Fall 2022 
BIOM Studio - Prof. Mercedes Garcia-Holguera

Earth is a resilient but delicate complex system where hierarchically organized structures thrive in a fluctuating balance. Human civilization is increasingly disrupting this equilibrium and facilitating scenarios where our survival as a species becomes more arduous.

In this context, learning from Nature’s resilient strategies is a powerful approach to rethinking our aspirations as designers. The BIOM Studio is positioned in this territory where architectural creation is inspired by a careful consideration of Nature’s lessons of adaptation and survival to address environmental challenges and respond to societal and technological requirements of our profession. Architects have to become genuine system thinkers and be prepared to work in changing, unexpected and extreme conditions that can arise from climatic, economic or societal transformations. 

Having Nature as their mentor, students will use biomimetic design methods and tools to search, abstract and transfer biological strategies that offer responses to architecture’s challenges in extreme environments. Mars and Churchill will be the chosen locations in the Fall, and students’ work will address performative questions and a holistic understanding of the architectural object. 

During the Field Trip week our group will travel to Churchill and we will stay at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. The estimated budget for transportation, accommodation and meals is in the range of $900 CAD per person with more details being provided as soon as they become available.

Act II / Winter 2023
Sympoiesis Studio - Prof. Lancelot Coar

Following the theme of ‘Nature as Mentor’ Sympoiesis Studio will continue to build on the skills and teachings offered in the fall term from BIOM Studio and turn towards the concepts of animacy in things, reciprocity with the Land, and working-with natural systems. 

The term sympoiesis was coined by the environmental philosopher Donna Haraway as meaning “making-with” – a word crafted specifically to stand in direct opposition with the notion that anyone or anything can make alone.1 We are not alone, nor can we continue to practice as though we are. If the climate crisis has confirmed anything it is that the damage caused by industrial human activity has only been possible because of a world view that privileges making for human benefit only without the responsibility to give back to the world through what is made.

This studio will advocate for more radical dialogues with the natural world to create a shared space for discovery. Robin Wall Kimmerer suggests that this can only happen through a relationship based in exchange, reciprocity, and mutual benefit.2

“In Potawatomi, we speak of the land as emingoyak: that which has been given to us…We are all bound by a covenant of reciprocity: plant breath for animal breath, winter and summer, predator and prey, grass and fire, night and day, living and dying. Water knows this, clouds know this. Soil and rocks know they are dancing in a continuous giveaway of making, unmaking, and making again the earth.”

In Sympoiesis Studio we will indeed seek to make with as an act of reciprocity with the world beyond us. In order to accomplish this, we will explore other ‘ways of knowing’ including directly from the animacy of the material world as well as from traditional teachings that offer insight into the sophisticated and profound ways that the human and more-than-human worlds are in all ways entangled. It is from these expanded views that students will develop meaningful design practices and projects that seek to reveal how what we build can serve to connect us closer to the world we build with. 

1 Haraway, Donna J. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
2 Kimmerer, Robin Wall. 2015. Braiding Sweetgrass. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

JARÐFRÆÐILEGT ARKITEKTÚR | Geological Architecture

Fall Term

“. . . Flux, Freeze, Fix.” Zaha Hadid’s Geological Creation Mythologies

“There's a pattern to the way the world is tearin' up,” (Matt Berninger) 

Expelled from the deep subterranean core after a 6,000-year dormant phase, an eruption in 2020 finally vacated the mantle at the Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland. Fagradalsfjall  came back to life. The upwelling of black new-earth material - never oxygenated, nitrogenated or hydrated, never in light, never depressurized – expelled to the surface, exploding into the atmosphere, and streaming rivers of lava onto the earth’s surface. This was the vast black still-warm lava field that we hiked to in early March of this year. [Illustrations 01, 02, 03]. ‘ Your own’ fault line – torn-apart, shredded, slashed, split, and jagged - releasing liquid minerals and toxic gases onto the land and into the air. 

The new lava at Reykjanes is a unique geological formation, protected under Iceland’s Nature Conservancy Act, safeguarded as a UNESCO Global Geopark, and the first example of a Shield Volcano since settlement in the 8th Century [Illustration 04]. In regions like the Reykjanes Peninsula’s westward lunge into the North Atlantic, one can observe perpetual beginnings and arrival – deep earthquakes, consolidating cones, and hot 1200-degree liquid lava sprawling towards Grindavik and the ocean. 

There have been occasions over the last two years when the Reykjanes Peninsula experienced a constant rumble of up 3,000 earthquakes per day. The lands north of Grindavik show signs of significant uplift. This is the effect of magma making its way up from the earth’s mantle. Most of the earthquakes originate in a region between 10 to 12km below the surface. The peninsula is one the most active geological regions in the world, a kind of millennial groaning as the North American Tectonic Plate stretches westward, separating itself for the Eurasian Tectonic Plate. The boundary is discernible as fault lines that flex, crack, break, and explode upward and out. [Illustration 05]

The region will likely be active for the next two centuries, and like many other sites in Iceland, the topography is changing in real time . Students will be able to witness, study, meditate and walk upon the vivid markers of geological time, gathering experiential knowledge and first-hand eye-witness accounts from volcanic heights down to the ocean’s edge, We will develop programs that respond to external influences and natural forces of a density, intensity, and scale that few would imagine possible. [Illustration 06].

Proposals and programs to facilitate a home for the Icelandic Art Institute and the World Weather Network are invited on themes of geological uncertainty and instability; comparative studies on human and geological time scales; permanence, durability, and longevity vs. entropy and decay; mobility and the ephemeral; building as weather station and seismographic instrument; architecture that explores and responds to the dramatic sub / supra-surface dynamics and material changes-of-state studies of climatic impact with emphasis on wind analysis and responses; integrated energy generation, storage, and distribution systems; landscape as spectacle ; soundscapes; land art; observatories [Illustration 07,09,09]; or/and the integration of major volcanic eruption defense infrastructure. 

A Field Trip to Iceland from Friday 14 to Thursday 20 October is in development - the 10th in a series dating back to 2015. UM Desautel Faculty of Music Professor Gordon Fitzell and members of XIE, his eXperimental Improv Ensemble have been invited to collaborate with us. The Field Trip is not mandatory and will be subject to internal budget approval. As was the case last year, University and National COVID Restrictions may interrupt the Field Trip. The preliminary per student cost estimate is CD $3,000. Please contact Prof. Enns if you have questions and are interested in receiving course and field trip updates. You can follow his work on Instagram at os1architecture. [Illustration 10].

Winter term

Aerial view of imagined ruins
Photo by Photo by JM Gandy’s aerial view of Sir John Soane’s Bank of England in ruins. 1830.

Carrying the Fall term project forward into the Winter we can think about the building in reverse time and simulate the geological concepts already charged by a project set in the Icelandic landscape.

It is quite true what philosophy says: that life must be understood backwards. But then one forgets the other principle: that it must be lived forwards. Soren Kierkegaard, Journals, IV A 164

A detective novel starts in the static visualization of he scene of a crime “post-mortem”.  Edgar Alan Poe invented the detective story in the mid-19th century1 as a story-telling process where time flows in two directions; one from this opening tumbling backwards collecting events and artifacts that compose the crime and another bounding forwards from the opening moment in twisting and turning pursuit of resolution. We move forward by versioning the crime from the elements found moving back. Revelation of these elements comes on broad hunches and coerced leads filtered by association in memory and composition of the story that resolves the crime.  The story culminates symbiotically in the two directions, it ends where it began in the post-mortem—we come to the story when we understand it backwards and forwards.

The Fall term of the M1 year begins with studies of cause in time (geological time intertwined with Icelandic place / culture) from which you model and draw built effect (comprehensive building design proposals that respond to the studio’s causes).  It’s a design process and workflow from a charged, intriguing, impelling, and novel cause translated through to the effect of a comprehensive building design via the performance within a range of limits, codes, and conventions.

The Winter M1 term in this studio will be intensive speculation and story-telling about the work done in the Fall. We will treat the Fall’s work as an embodied artefact of a comprehensive building design process in which we can study and reflect by continuously creating versions of the project that deepen effects of analytical revelations in cause—energy efficiency, carbon footprint, site responsiveness, programmatic expression, precedent observations, geometric resolution, capacity for accessibility, even serendipity.

The process and product of the Winter will be forensic, an architectural detective story.  The rhetorical expert Barbara Johnson, calls this sort of creative process, “…the act of analysis of the act of analysis.”2  The opening tableau from which we move in two directions is the Fall’s final review.  We will be: 

moving backwards in reconstructing the composition of the design process, cataloging influences, overlaying dialog, acknowledging the arrival in the process of limits and other considerations to build a manipulable timeline of actions to quantify the workflow


moving forwards with acts of resolution such as quantifying and integrating parametric conditions, quantification of the material and spatial investment in the proposal, elaboration through cinematic atomization of systematic elaborations in fabrication, components, and assemblies.  

Each moment of challenge looking back invests the model with new versions moving forwards.  Each version becomes a collaborative hunch open for discussion and open to looking back.  The story of the Fall’s project and the Winter’s response to it make our detective story.  It is a two-fold story of cause and effect told simultaneously in two times.  The purpose of the studio is also this story.  We will utilize a variety of physical and digital modelling in solid, surface, parametric and physical states.  We will move through time to compose our versions and story tell in printouts on the walls and in animations on screens in our studio.

Each moment of challenge looking back invests the model with new versions moving forwards.  Each version becomes a collaborative hunch open for discussion and open to looking back.  The story of the Fall’s project and the Winter’s response to it make our detective story.  It is a two-fold story of cause and effect told simultaneously in two times.  The purpose of the studio is also this story.  We will utilize a variety of physical and digital modelling in solid, surface, parametric and physical states.  We will move through time to compose our versions and story tell in printouts on the walls and in animations on screens in our studio.


1  Poe helped to invent new genres in writing like the detective story and science-fiction in the mid-19th century to undermine emerging determinism and instrumentalism in science hoping that complications in story-telling process would support and enable intuitive and serendipitous discovery in the face of a rising empire of empiricism in scientific and technological thinking.

2  Barbara Johnson, The Critical Difference: Essays in the Contemporary Rhetoric of Reading (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980 p. 110.

Macondo: Universals in the Local

Learn more about Macondo: Universals in the Local

Macondo is a fictional world, the place created by writer Gabriel García Márquez culminating in his One Hundred Years of Solitude. Architecture and Place as total existential space and environment play a key role in Márquez’ Macondo and his “magical realism.” Drawing a parallel from literature the studio elaborates on key topics of Márquez’ polysemic work with an overarching theme on how the local (transculturally and across time and space) can contain universals.  From house to town and geography, Macondo configures what one may call a world of augmented reality which condenses world history and human condition. After ‘reading’ and collectively revisiting Marquez’ Macondo the students individually, through their projects, will develop themes Macondo contains which range from:  

The encounter of Western mentality with indigenous and non-Western ones —and their amalgamation;  the coexistence of the perceived and the imaginary in one single lived world; the limitations of rationality to account for the facts of history and personal life; a disenchantment with the world that comes with modernity; the difference science as knowledge and what we call modern technology; the absurdity of patriarchal societies and a subjugated undervalued wisdom in female roles; the stupidity of war, its ideological abstractions and occasion for cruelty and abuse; the continuity and coexistence between life and death. These topics not only emanate from Márquez’ polysemic work but constitute an occasion for each student to develop an emphasis as architectural intention or short thesis.  

Marquez’ Macondo configures a New World’s mythology and celebrates poetry as highest manifestation of clarity and most precise way to articulate and resolve complex problems. The analogy with, and relevance for, architecture and the city will become evident as the year and projects unfold. 

As Macondo originates in Colombia, the studio will benefit from the opportunity to travel to its culturally rich and biodiverse environments. The trip to Colombia includes contemporary architectural and urban experiences in Bogotá, and excursion to history and geography, from the Pre-Hispanic (Cartagena and Villa de Leyva) to contemporary indigenous Muisca (Guatavita) and Kogi (Taironaka), and the “magical region” of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta where Macondo takes place. 

Studio timeline
Fall and Winter terms are distinct but interrelated: Fall being disciplinary (disciplinary), Winter interdisciplinary in collaboration with Richard Milgrom’s graduate Urban Design studio: a unique opportunity for our students to widen horizons in matters of urban design and planning of the built environment and acquire additional expertise prior to ED graduation.
The fall begins with a design exploration on Winnipeg’s “Memorial” axis and concludes with a small-scale infill project in Bogotá’s Barrio La Macarena (with options given to those who cannot join the fieldtrip). The Winter will unfold around the notion of inclusion and contemporary indigenous meaningful presence in the urban the context. We will develop collective urban design as well as independent architectural projects in the immediate context of the former The Bay building in downtown Winnipeg.

Field trip budget (CAD): Flight, 920; Food, Accommodation, transportation, 600.  

Normal Studio

Learn more about Normal Studio

As designers, we can rely on intuition to realise our work. Intuitive thoughts, unlike conscious thoughts, feel like they come from somewhere. By communicating in this way, our interior world becomes entangled with our sense of the exterior.1

To all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks their way out to a clearing.  - Marcel Duchamp, The Creative Act2

In Normal3 Studio, students will nurture their intuition by citing themselves and their immediate context(s) as references. Sourcing material from dreams, personal artefacts and their spatial vernacular, students will focus on drawing and making to tangle work, reference and site to construct critiques of self, place and institution. These constructs and their related ideas and actions should engage and become enmeshed with the wider world by providing useful architectures, for example, mirrors, respites, or provocations.

Normal Studio will begin with each student studying their own wunderkammer, existing collections of meaningful tchotchkes intuitively arranged within their particular space. These studies will form the basis for future material and spatial explorations as well as begin a process of communicating meaning with material through the use of discovered architectural and ritualistic operations.

To support the research aims of the studio, Normal Studio will travel to local/near-local sites of related interest. For example, the Immaculate Conception Church and Grotto in Cooks Creek, Manitoba. Students should budget $300 for, at most, several day trips by car or by bus.


1. Intuitively, I feel that this is true.
2. Duchamp, Marcel. (1957). The Creative Act.
3. As in Normal School, an institution created to train teachers. ‘Normal’ refers to the school’s objective of nurturing specific ‘norms’ within students.