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Photo credit: Straub & Thurmayr


Folly Forest is a playground intervention for the 21st century. From a handful of constraints which included stormwater management issues, large swaths of asphalt and a reasonably rigid expectation that it was unavoidable in the schoolyard, design guidelines that made it hard to change, and budgetary restrictions, emerged a wonderfully playful, imaginative, and yet simple design, which utilized recycled and repurposed materials wherever possible. [1]

Straub and Thurmayr pitched their strategy as a quintet of interventions: breaking open the asphalt; planting trees in newly exposed earth; filling gaps with soil and a permeable bricolage of salvaged bricks, cobblestones, logs and asphalt chunks; sowing prairie grasses; then finally, welcoming urban wildlife. This wildlife includes not just pretty birds and butterflies, but also bugs and earthworms. 

As every kid should know, earthworms play a vital role in maintaining healthy ecosystems by aerating the soil and ferrying nutrients from the surface to roots below. As much as Straub and Thurmayr designed for frolicking children (kindergarten to grade six), they also designed for burrowing invertebrates, providing thresholds—like trap doors in a stage floor—where lower and upper worlds meet. For these underground soil engineers, the pavement’s colourful array of fissures frame gateways up to daylit dirt, enabling them to do their work. 

Together with the perforated dance floor for students, trees and worms, Straub and Thurmayr choreographed other socially constructive diversions. These include a dense archipelago of rocks (known as Rocky Island); a grassed-over mound formed by broken clumps of paving; a weathered array of tree trunk-like benches, made from beams recovered from a demolished stadium; and a surreal trio of upturned industrial tanks—rusty curiosities from Winnipeg’s Salvage Supermarket. 

Each folly supports topographical play: hopping, climbing, balancing and running around in circles. The rich materiality and allusiveness of these rocks, mounds, beams and cauldrons also provoke peripatetic wondering and storytelling. Their strange presence recollects tales of origins and spurs imagination. Are they lookout towers for earthworms and nests for dinosaur eggs, as Straub purports? Or are they heads of magic mushrooms, emerging humps of an autochthonous monster, archaic bells, petrified beehives, or primitive huts for a genius loci? [2]

“The key to Folly Forest was controlled reuse – giving materials a second life, and transforming them into a new context. Our building materials were leftovers that the city produced and threw out. We reclaimed the concept of bricolage, and when the forest was complete, the total cost for the metamorphosis of the fifty-year-old asphalt field was $20 per square metre."

–                   — Dietmar Straub [3]



Bund Deutscher Landschaftsarchitekten (DE), Würdigungen, 2013
Canadian Society of Landscape Architects, 
National Citation, 2013
Manitoba Excellence in Sustainability Award, category Sustainable Community, 2013
Prairie Design Awards, Award of Merit, 2014
AZ Award for Design Excellence, Award of Merit in the Landscape category, 2014
AZ Award for Design Excellence 2014, People’s Choice Award, 2014


[1]      McCudden, Kathryn. “Folly Forest – MB.” Edited by Samantha Miller and Nicole Brekelmans. CDNUrbanStrategies. Accessed June 9, 2021. https://www.canadianurbanstrategies.com/folly-forest-mb.

[2]      Landrum, Lisa. “Folly Forest, Winnipeg, Manitoba.” Canadian Architect, June 24, 2019. https://www.canadianarchitect.com/folly-forest/.

[3]      “2013 Awards of Excellence.” Landscapes: Landscape Architecture in Canada 15, no. 3, 2013.

Additional information

“Folly Forest.” CSLA. Accessed June 9, 2021. https://www.csla-aapc.ca/awards-atlas/folly-forest.

“Folly Forest.” Folly Forest | Prairie Design Awards. Accessed June 9, 2021. http://prairiedesignawards.com/2014/folly_forest.html.

“Folly Forest.” Outdoor PLAYbook. Accessed June 9, 2021. http://outdoorplaybook.ca/learn/inspirational-projects/folly-forest/.

Haleem, Aadel. “Strathcona School Perforates Tarmac to Create Folly Forest | CBC News.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, June 25, 2013. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/strathcona-school-perforates-tarmac-to-create-folly-forest-1.1352450.

Project Title: Folly Forest
Artists: Straub Thurmayr CSLA Landschaftsarchitekten
Place: Winnipeg, MB

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