Jane Wolff wins 2022 Margolese Design for Living Prize

he Saint Louis born, Toronto-based landscape designer and scholar uses public engagement, writing, and drawing to help disparate communities make sense of the natural and human-made environment.

Jane Wolff. Photo: Amir Gavriel

The University of British Columbia School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (UBC SALA) has named Jane Wolff as the recipient of the 2022 Margolese Design for Living Prize. The Saint Louis raised, Toronto-based landscape designer and scholar uses public engagement, writing, and drawing to help disparate communities make sense of the natural and human-made environment.

The Margolese Prize will be celebrated with a public presentation and panel discussion at the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre on UBC campus in Vancouver on October 3, 2022, at 6pm.

Wolff drawing the edge of San Francisco Bay to think about vocabulary terms for Bay Lexicon. Photo: Susan Schwartzenberg

One of the highest design accolades in Canada, the annual $50,000 Margolese Prize spotlights a Canadian citizen who uses design to encourage a greater understanding of the built environment. “Jane Wolff enriches places and elevates the lives of people through design,” says UBC SALA Director Ron Kellett. “Her innovative methods address the intersections of built and natural environments, in a creatively accessible way.”

An early study by Wolff explores vocabulary related to San Francisco Bay

A Professor at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto, Wolff works on the premise that different people see and experience the same landscape in various ways, and her research goal is to unite these diverse perceptions into a universally comprehensible language. By generating a unique vocabulary for each landscape, she discovers and tells meaningful stories about a site’s past and present circumstances and to address its future.

Toronto Landscape Observatory. Photo: Credit Amir Gavriely

Wolff was selected by a trans-national jury comprised of artist Jill Anholt, landscape architect and Member of Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation Grant Fahlgren, architect Tudor Radulescu, designer and professor Blair Satterfield, and architect and professor Brigitte Shim. According to the jury: “Jane Wolff’s work on landscape literacy has had a significant impact on our collective understanding of critical environmental issues. Her design tools of writing, drawing and public engagement reach a wide audience without compromising the complexity of the subject matter.

Delta Primer book and card deck. Photo: Amir Gavriely

Wolff will be working with members of the UBC SALA community in the coming months to share her methods in a pop-up observatory and public walk that explore Vancouver’s shoreline.” Interested participants should sign up for the newsletter to receive updates.

To register for in-person seating at Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre, please visit the following link.

Jane Wolff — Selected Projects

Gutter to Gulf

To inform rebuilding processes in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, Wolff, in collaboration with her colleagues Elise Shelley and Derek Hoeferlin and their University of Toronto and Washington University students, created the Gutter to Gulf website. This open-access tool explains the history, engineering, and possibilities of New Orleans’s water systems.

Bay Lexicon

Wolff’s Bay Lexicon offers information about San Francisco’s shoreline to reveal the implications of sea level rise. The project began as a series of flash cards in the Exploratorium, a museum of science, art, and human perception on the city’s waterfront. She expanded her exploration in her 2021 book Bay Lexicon, a visual dictionary of the shoreline’s history, present condition, and possibilities.

Bay Lexicon flash card in use near the Exploratorium. Photo: Susan Schwartzenberg
A drawing by Wolff reveals that San Francisco’s drinking water comes from a reservoir in the mountains.

Delta Primer

Delta Primer describes the fiercely contested ecosystem of the California Delta in terms that transcend the usual boundaries of interest groups. The project has two parts: a book and a deck of playing cards that can be used as a metaphor for negotiation and exchange. Delta Primer offered terms for public conversation that were taken up by policymakers, environmentalists, farmers, planners, designers, and citizens across California.

Drawing from Delta Primer card deck by Jane Wolff in collaboration with Thomas Hansen
Drawing from Delta Primer card deck by Jane Wolff in collaboration with Thomas Hansen
The Delta Primer deck includes four wild cards that make a panorama of what the future might look like. Drawings by Jane Wolff in collaboration with Thomas Hansen
The Delta Primer deck includes four wild cards that make a panorama of what the future might look like. Drawings by Jane Wolff in collaboration with Thomas Hansen
The Delta Primer deck includes four wild cards that make a panorama of what the future might look like. Drawings by Jane Wolff in collaboration with Thomas Hansen
The Delta Primer deck includes four wild cards that make a panorama of what the future might look like. Drawings by Jane Wolff in collaboration with Thomas Hansen
Toronto Landscape Observatory

Wolff has worked for the past several years with the Toronto Biennial of Art to reveal Toronto’s rich and often unnoticed landscape processes and phenomena to exhibition visitors. In 2019, she and Susan Schwartzenberg co-curated a pop-up field station near Lake Ontario’s shoreline and led a public walk in which Indigenous and settler participants shared their diverse observations and understandings of the evolving waterfront. In 2022, the duo expanded their work, co-curating the Toronto Landscape Observatory. In this interactive exhibition, Indigenous and settler knowledge keepers, scholars, and artists created instruments for observing the environment. In the associated program series, Observatory contributors walked and talked with visitors to explore and consider the changing face of Toronto’s historic industrial landscapes.

As part of the Toronto Landscape Observatory, Jane Wolff and co-curator Susan Schwartzenberg invited participants to walk in the Biennial’s neighbourhood and use their senses to read and explore the landscape. Photo: Amir Gavriely
Toronto Lanndscape Observatory. Images courtesy of the Toronto Biennial of Art, 2022. Photo: Rebecca Tisdelle-Macias
Toronto Landscape Observatory._Images courtesy of the Toronto Biennial of Art, 2022. Photo: Rebecca Tisdelle-Macias
Toronto Landscape Observatory._Images courtesy of the Toronto Biennial of Art, 2022. Photo: Rebecca Tisdelle-Macias
Drawings from Wolff’s sketch lexicon described the Observatory landscape
Drawings from Wolff’s sketch lexicon described the Observatory landscape
Drawings from Wolff’s sketch lexicon described the Observatory landscape
Image courtesy of the Toronto Biennial of Art, 2019. Photo: Yuula Benevolski
Jane Wolff on the shores of Lake Huron, summer 2022. Photo: Amir Gavriely
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