Benchmark 2023 design competition winner announced

Storefront Manitoba and the Winnipeg Trails Association have announced Winnipeg furniture designer Thom Fougere, currently based in Montreal, as the winner of the 5th Annual Benchmark Competition.

Three projects from Winnipeg and Montreal have also received an honourable mention from the jury. The selected design will be located along the 8th to McCawley Trail, on the north edge of the Victoria Beach Golf Course. Located on Treaty 1 land, the 1.3 km long trail is part of the Victoria Beach Trans Canada Trail and the Borders to Beaches Trail, connecting the beaches of Lake Winnipeg to the Manitoba-Ontario border.

This year’s edition of Benchmark is a tribute to the late David Penner, the founder and longstanding Executive Director of Storefront Manitoba. David spent summers at the cottage in Victoria Beach with his family, friends, and dogs, and had many adventures along the trails in the area.

The jury was comprised of David’s family, former colleagues and friends: Eduard Epp (U of M Architecture Professor Emeritus), Travis Cooke (1×1 Architecture), Leanne Muir (U of M Landscape Architecture Instructor), Nicole Marion (Studio Marion), Penny McMorris (Mayor, Victoria Beach) and the Penner family (Marion, Zoe, Matthew and Kelly).

“David loved to walk in the parkland forest surrounding Lake Winnipeg at Victoria Beach. The bench, in memory of David Penner, can be thought of as a memorial and as a place to rest while on a walk. The selected projects embraced the aesthetic ideals of foregrounding the forest setting by design – consistent with David’s ‘extra-ordinary’ design sensibility. And for this reason, the jury were of one mind in choosing the winning project titled, ‘Four Nesting Loops,’” says Eduard Epp.

“On behalf of the RM of Victoria Beach I congratulate Mr. Fougere on his winning submission and I look forward to the installation of his artistic benches, that will provide circles of respite and reflection on one of our well-loved, forest trails. I appreciated being included in the selection process for this project and I was impressed with the consideration of our community and our landscape that went into the many design submissions,” says Penny McMorris, Mayor of Victoria Beach.

The bench is composed of four circles creating a tranquil space for reflection and contemplation, inviting visitors to sit and connect with nature. The resilient honed steel surface passively captures the dappling of light through the forest canopy, creating a dynamic interplay between the bench and its natural surroundings.

“This project is evocative and transcendent, like the forest itself. Its formal and spatial disposition and material simplicity, initially perceived as foreign objects in nature, are in fact universally familiar and engaging and invite ‘reflection and contemplation’ as its author suggests,” writes the jury. “The judicious placement of the four seating rings adjacent to the path and into the forest provides a sense of order and place. The concentrically disposed rings signal growth and symbolically reference the passage of time echoed concretely by shadows cast from a tree planted within one or more of the rings. Similarly, David’s home and cottage incorporate wooden pathways that encircle trees along their path. The honed steel seating surfaces gather and reflect light and shade or leaves and snow as the seasons pass, making evident the natural cycles of growth, decay and renewal. However approached, it invites the passer-by and the user to engage life otherwise and to experience ‘intimate immensity’.”

Three Honourable Mentions were awarded by the jury for Benchmark 2023 :

Birch by Matt Hagen (Toronto, ON) and Evan Taylor (Winnipeg, MB)Jury comment: This project is playful and engaging and captures the dynamic character of the forest setting without disturbing the ground it hovers over. Its whimsical form, both strange and familiar, is a nod to the Aspen birch, to David’s use of white poles as an architectural element – and to the great variety of mushrooms that colonize the forest floor. David was a big fan of seeking out mushrooms, both as remarkable flora and otherwise – a fitting tribute to David and the mystical experiences that nature offers.

Frame by Nathaniel Joanisse et al of Table Architecture (Montreal, QC)
Jury comment: This project is a contemporary take on the Abbé Laugier’s ‘Primitive Hut’ (1755), of taking trees to create an architectural moment by the simplest means possible. Its functional, material and formal qualities are exacting and sophisticated and evoke David’s partiality for Platonic forms (and his nearby family cottage). It functions like a window to look into the forest and a bench to look out from – in both cases to experience the forest setting by design.

Meet the Creature by Anton Lialkou, Fletcher Noonan, and Tom Monteyne of Monteyne Architecture Works (Winnipeg, MB)
Jury comment: This project captures David’s rogue designer nature, evidenced by the formal qualities of its contrasting form, colour and contextual fit. Storefront MB was founded by David Penner et al, and fuchsia was chosen as its branding colour. On first encounter, the fuchsia pipe ‘creature’ draws attention to itself and simultaneously makes the passer-by acutely aware of the forest setting, both overtly and subliminally. The opportunity for photo ops or for scaling the creature like a fallen log, would undoubtedly live on in most anyone’s memory of a visit to the forests of VB’ … and of David.