Registered Designers of Canada—22 May 2018

Why is John deWolf an RGD?


From student to peer, I am often confronted with questions related to the Return on Investment in RGD and similar organizations. “Is it worth the fees?” and “What do I get out of it?” are often the questions fielded. For this designer, joining RGD is less about how it will benefit me, and more about what benefits are provided to all of us. RGD, GDC and other industry-based organizations are here for us. They organize events suited to our interests; they give us the opportunity to meet industry heavyweights; they commission research important to our industry and they advocate for us when others devalue our services.

As a professional, I believe it is critical that I be a Member of those organizations that are champions for the industry in which I practice. Quite simply, we should support organizations that support us. Cost, value and perks are not part of the equation. My decision to join RGD is based on community and advocacy.

It is a cliché that “you only get out what you put into it,” but I believe it wholeheartedly. Organizations like RGD expend great effort organizing events, bringing the community together, raising awareness of what we do in our day-to-day work. The ability of these organizations to do what they do depends on our involvement and engagement. Our regular participation allows organizations like RGD to run more events, have a wider reach and attract the best in the industry. And, our feedback ensures the organization is providing content we want.

The first week, I joined RGD, I was welcomed by the Executive Director and shortly thereafter by other staff and volunteers. Encouraged to fill-in my profile, I did. Asked if would be interested in contributing a case study, I was. Invited to participate as a judge for the So(cial) Good Design Awards, I accepted. I look forward to other opportunities that I expect will arise in the future. At this point, I have so enjoyed the opportunities RGD has provided, I cannot see turning down any request they might make for my future involvement. The more actively I engage, the more I get out of this relationship. 


Living on the East Coast, away from the centre that is Ontario, I don’t have access to the same quantity of events and opportunities, however the staff and volunteers have worked to bridge that divide, ensuring I feel—no, I am—part of a greater community. If I have questions, or need to contact a designer with a special expertise or area of knowledge somewhere else in the country, RGD has been there to connect me, via their online directory or through requests to help make connections.

Take advantage of the great opportunities RGD offers. Go to an event, contribute a case study or new project, mentor an emerging designer or get involved on a Committee. Our involvement creates a stronger design community. And this is perhaps the greatest reward of Membership:  deeper sense of community. 

I joined for greater exposure for my company. But I do not measure ROI in RGD based on that. For this designer, joining RGD is about becoming more committed to an industry. It’s about getting to know your peers and letting them get to know me. It's about making lifelong connections and having support on issues that matter to us all. I feel pride in being a Member of the RGD community, valued for my many contributions to the growth of our community as for my annual support in Membership dues.


Why RGD? Our involvement creates a stronger design community.


Landscape/Paysage—Spring 2018

A Memorial Writ in the Landscape



ON DECEMBER 6, 2017, Halifax marked the centenary of the Halifax Explosion, with the opening of Fort Needham grounds as a Memorial Park. At 9:04 a.m., hundreds gathered for a minute of silence; ships’ horns sounded; a cannon blasted from Citadel Hill. And around the assembled crowd, even in the drenching rain, the memorial landscape told its story, evoking intimate images of the disaster so long ago.

WHEN BRITAIN IS AT WAR, Canada is at war. There is no distinction,” stated Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1910. But the First World War, when it came, churned on, and neither Laurier nor Prime Minister Borden could have predicted the profound consequences at home, or on December 6, 2017, in Halifax.

During the war, military and merchant ships mustered in Halifax’s Bedford Basin, many destined to make the dangerous Atlantic crossing to the European theatres of war. On that tragic December day, two ships in the Narrows collided: the Norwegian SS Imo, a merchant vessel headed to the U.S. to load supplies for Belgian relief, struck the French SS Mont- Blanc laden with the raw goods for the production of explosives bound for Europe. The collision generated the largest non-nuclear explosion of the twentieth-century. In the blink of an eye, the community of Richmond was wiped from the face  of the city. One in twenty-five succumbed to the disaster; one in five suffered injury, many with lifelong afflictions, and one in ten were left homeless.

Today, no human witnesses to the tragedy remain. But the Memorial Park on Fort Needham Hill, with its vantage point overlooking ground zero of the explosion, will forever be tied to that devastating event.


When our teams began to prepare the hill for the centenary, we launched a joint process in awakening memory. Ekistics Planning & Design had shaped the site’s Master Plan with two clear goals: to significantly enhance Fort Needham’s power as a memorial for the city, the province and the nation, but also to meet the needs of the community for an improve local park. As the design took shape, we asked a single recurring question. Could we let the hill tell the story? We believed we could. This was the shared vision of our two teams—the Ekistics landscape architects and the experiential graphic designers of Form:Media—and the basis of our interdisciplinary approach.

Norwegian researcher Alexander Refsum Jensenius suggests an interdisciplinary approach to design differs from the collaboration of multiple disciplines working together to achieve a single goal. Interdisciplinary suggests a synthesis of approaches where knowledge, methods and process are integrated. The landscape architects of Ekistics Planning & Design looked to integrate thematic content into landforms, while the experiential graphic designers of Form:Media considered swales and retaining walls as much as they did words of interpretation.

Through materiality and form, our two teams worked as one. The design features two corten steel retaining walls, each the length of the two ships, which are pierced with the ship’s specifications: length, width, and place of origin. Simple wooden benches along the length of the “Mont-Blanc” wall indicate the content on board. Further inspection reveals the weight, volume and cost of these dangerous goods.

On the new Richmond staircase, which leads up the hill to the Memorial Bell Tower built some three decades ago, ballustrades are placed like shards of warped steel as if rained down upon the earth, each punctured with the name of a school, church, or business lost. Here, interpretation does not consist of verbose, didactic panels of lengthy prose. On one memorial wall of text, the upper half is perforated and light, while the lower half uses rivets of steel to complete the text as if below a waterline, an anamorphic experience. The narrative is further evoked through lighting on the monument.

Interpretation is not education. Visitors will come seeking diverse experiences, and perhaps—while walking a dog or checking out the playground—discover provocative details that pique their historical curiosity. Discovery can be as effective as a history book, perhaps more so.

The Fort Needham Memorial Park invites visitors to freely contemplate the 1917 explosion their own way. The experience, for many, will grow deeper with time. The power of that annual moment of silence lies in the landscape.

Authors John deWolf and Adam Fine are experiential graphic designers who worked with Ekistics Planning and Design to implement the park’s master plan. Their story is a follow-up to “Community and Commemoration,” by Sandra Cooke, in LP’s “Time” issue, 2016 winter (vol. 18, no. 4).


time, vol 20, no 1

Landscape/Paysages Journal is a bilingual Quarterly publication of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects. Landscapes/Paysages is the professional journal of landscape architecture in Canada. It presents a Canadian perspective on professional practice and provides a forum to discuss and debate matters related to design, culture and environment, as reflected in our landscapes.


Photos: Scotty Sherin


Photos: Scotty Sherin


Photos: Scotty Sherin


Applied Arts—Spring 2018

Judged and juried: It’s time to take a more holistic look at design awards


Recently, I was discouraged when reviewing the fine print of a graphic design competition entry form, not entirely for what I read, but because I could not decipher the type. My current pair of glasses did not pass muster. (A trip to the optometrist confirmed that multi-vision lenses would aid in seeing different views.)

For over 25 years, I have been scrutinizing everything from interpretive planning documents to location plans, message schedules and construction drawings. The type of work I do—experiential graphic design—has been partially responsible for a shift in my vision.

Perhaps the close read of the entry requirements only enhanced some of the issues I have with design competitions. While new lenses helped to better understand the scope of each classification, better sight did not improve my ability to discern the correct category for our work. For a designer who operates on the periphery of many design disciplines—branded environments, signage and wayfinding, and design for narrative environments—I can rarely find a category that is a best fit.

Full disclosure: I have juried and I have been judged. So too have Edmund Li and Udo Schliemann of branding and environmental commmunications firm Entro, both of whom I spoke to regarding this opinion piece. I am currently a judge for the RGD, and a past juror for Applied Arts; I do hope this column does not preclude me from any future opportunities to appraise design work.

Competition season is upon us, and so this year I have an opportunity to take a critical look. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in competitions. They are important for our clients, for the industry and for the individuals who contributed to the project.

Certainly I cannot be alone in questioning competitions. Aside from what category best relates to our work—or if categorization is even necessary—I have other questions. Why are we submitting? Are competitions the best way to recognize work? Is it even worth it?

The close view: most typical brand categories include visual identity and related material, usually print. But if brand is about a promise and aligning expectation with experience, then why not enter an interior design or even a civic park into a branding competition? The issue then is in communicating how that project supports the brand.

One problem: the requirements. For example, “If you have a wayfinding project, and only eight images,” says Schliemann, “and you produced 20 sign types and 1,000 signs, you can’t describe your project properly with those limitations.” Udo, Edmund and I agree. It is difficult to communicate complexity, as Schliemann notes, “with a short text and the visual repertoire that we are asked to provide.” Personally, I prefer competitions that accept longer texts and supporting images that illustrate the depth of the solution.

As an entrant, you must anticipate for juror fatigue, Edmund and Udo reminded me. Perhaps this gets to the core of what we do, you and I. We are communicators. The audience for the products we create is different than jurors and industry readership. We must, as designers, tailor the message to the audience.

What should the juror focus on? As much as we want to document every detail, we can’t. Therefore review, remind yourself of the big picture and refine. Regardless of the complexity of the project, there is a way to communicate the submission’s core idea within the requirements, such as a video or a great copy editor.

A benefit of competitions is the process. “There is a moment of reflection when you look at your work,” says Li, and, “during your own selection process, you may realize the things you could have improved. When you see a very strong entry, there is a reminder about why the project is working.”

Recently, I entered a project in a competition. I found it interesting that when viewed through the individual lenses of graphic design, architecture and landscape architecture, the design was good, possibly very good. However, when the “design” solution was viewed as a whole, I thought it was “awardworthy.” But would others? Does it even matter?

From another perspective—the long view—the main issue I struggle with is choosing a category—or using the intradisciplinary lens to evaluate a multidisciplinary project. Applied Arts and Azure have introduced new categories—like experiential graphic design—into their programs for a broadening design field. Thanks, we EGDers appreciate this!

Perhaps the shift to multi-vision progressive lenses gave me a new perspective after all. Udo suggests more categories are required to capture the periphery of communication design. This is where he and I do not see eye to eye. While intradisciplinary judging levels the playing field, I believe industry as a whole is moving towards a more multidisciplinary approach to design. So too should competitions.

Edmund, Udo and I do agree on many points: we enter awards to thank our clients for considering design, as a sign of appreciation for staff and to push the envelope of the design fields. Udo laments, however, that those things “always used to be part of our profession—the social impact, the social-political impact of what we do. That has somehow gotten lost. It’s really more about things of beauty, or the latest tools.” I could not agree more.

What competitions would I like to see? To enter? I want to judge and be judged on good, not just good-looking, design. I believe in high standards and positive outcomes, and I care less about beauty. I would like to believe the industry shares some of my opinions, as we witness design organizations recognizing how positive action through design can meaningfully impact how we live. (Kudos RGD and its So(cial) Good Design Awards.)

Ultimately, I envision a competition that is less intradisciplinary in evaluation, and more focussed on how we solve problems through design to benefit society. GDC, RGD, RAIC, IDC and CSLA: it’s time to take a more holistic approach to design awards. Let’s collaborate, in an interdisciplinary way, to envision competitions that celebrate outcome and process, regardless of discipline. That’s a vision of the future I see.


Inaugural Issue This is the first of what I hope to be many opinion pieces for Applied Arts Magazine


Landscape/Paysage—Winter 2016

Branding Heritage Landscapes


When we brand a landscape, are we just turning it into a commodity or are we building a sense of place? According to a recent article in Forbes, brand is a term that is “widely used but unevenly understood.” Agreed. Brand expert Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap, describes brand as a gut feeling. It is the emotional connection they—the public—have when traversing a street or trail, that we—landscape architects and experiential graphic designers—have a role in building. When done well, landscape architecture and branding both strengthen emotional connections to place.

Experiential Graphic Design is located at the intersection of landscape architecture, architecture, urban planning and communication design. According to the SEGD (the Society for Experiential Graphic Design), the industry “create[s] content-rich, emotionally compelling, experiential spaces for a wide range of environments” to fuel a dialogue between users and the spaces they inhabit. Experiential graphic designers orchestrate familiar elements of design—typography, color, imagery, form, light and sound—to communicate themes and narratives by means of fixtures in the environment, including signage, panels and objects. Like LAs, we consider how and when information is delivered to evoke emotional connections. 

As practitioners, our work is made more challenging when the landscape is considered special because of its historic or cultural significance. In these heritage landscapes, integrity and authenticity are key to our understanding of time.


The Landscape of Grand Pré is a living artifact: an historic polder landscape; a preserved community-based land management system; a heritage landscape inhabited by Mi’kmaq people and European settlers; and a cultural landscape that serves to commemorate the Acadian diaspora. If brand is about evoking emotional connections through design, then this program overtly interprets the cultural landscape to enhance understanding, even elicit feelings of empathy. Whereas the landscape of Old Town Lunenburg is a protected urban fabric, the Landscape of Grand Pré bears testimony to those who formed, harvested and lost, and continue to work this artificial hydrological entity. 

The 1,300 hectare site now has a unified signage program to welcome guests to the land, to direct them to points of interest, and to interpret the environment. Because integrity was key, the work required a light footprint on a landscape already dramatically shaped by human activity, however imperceptible those past interventions were to the modern eye.

History and reflection are of great importance to the community. A painterly brandmark features the Acadian memorial church, the dykelands, agricultural silos, and Cape Blomidon aims to form an emotional connection with the landscape. Interpretive signage improves the visitor experience by encouraging understanding of Landscape of Grand Pré, while directional signage provides clear directions to destinations that are important to residents and visitors. Together, these build an emotional attachment for those that experience it.


Integrity—according to the United Nations World Heritage program—is a measure of the wholeness and intactness of cultural heritage and its attributes. Red Bay, Labrador is recognized as the most extensive and best preserved example of proto-industrial processing of large-scale production of whale oil rendering, anywhere. The site once bustled with 16th century activity centred on whaling, holding rendering ovens, cooperages, wharves, and temporary living quarters. Today, little historic evidence remains on the landscape, aside from an interpretive centre.

Strictly through the lens of brand, there was a disconnect between what visitors expected—the promise of a 16th century Basque whaling station—and the current town of Red Bay, mostly built in the mid-20th century. Visitors to Red Bay Basque Whaling Station (BWS) will largely experience the latter, while interpreting the former. For the town of Red Bay, Form:Media’s place-branding focussed on enhancing the destination, and revealing an unperceivable history of place. Essentially, the work advocates for the visitor by addressing another aspect of brand  and the built environment: aligning the promise with the experience.

Honesty is therefore paramount. We had to be cautious about how to represent Red Bay Basque Whaling Station. From a purely graphic perspective, the use of a modified 16th century woodcut, paired with photographs of the current Red Bay landscape promises an experience which can actually be delivered: indoor interpretation of Basque whaling heritage with rugged outdoor experience. 

The designers’ consideration of the landscape was deliberate, fuelled by the promise of a contemporary experience. Central to the wayfinding system are the monuments, which relate to observation posts used by Basque sailors to spot whales coming through the Strait of Belle Isle. These monuments of blackened steel evoke plumes of dark smoke which would have wafted from the tryworks where whale blubber was rendered into lamp oil. 

The monument design is a work of signature architecture, and as important as other aspects (assets) of the brand (its logo, typeface, symbols, colour scheme). The structures are meant to be prominently shown in photographs, yet are best seen in person. Texture and colour echo the dark oily skin of the right and bowhead whales. Their mirrored top is a contemporary reflection on the Basque sailors’ use of fire to signal whale pod sightings.

For Red Bay, integrity was again the paramount criteria. The landscape, relatively unaltered for recent centuries should remain so. Situated sparingly within the natural environment, the monuments are meant as contemplative spaces for the visitor, to elicit notions of time in the present-day, and that of five centuries ago. We describe them as portals, a notional view to the past. The monuments frame points of view, both towards an ocean once circumnavigated by the Basque sailors and back to a community continuing to operate as an outpost. 

When designers brand a landscape, we are aiming to influence people’s perceptions. The cultural heritage landscapes of UNESCO World Heritage sites are fragile environments, and we recognize that in these places, we can help shape society’s understanding of the passage of time. When visitors connect emotionally with these places, then we know we have NOT commodified space, but rather built a stronger place-brand that can help preserve these landscapes for future generations.


time, vol 18, no 4

Landscape/Paysages Journal is a bilingual Quarterly publication of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects. Landscapes/Paysages is the professional journal of landscape architecture in Canada. It presents a Canadian perspective on professional practice and provides a forum to discuss and debate matters related to design, culture and environment, as reflected in our landscapes.


Located at key corners and junctions throughout the town, the signs share historical information and directions to historical buildings of note and the area’s main attractions. 


A unique challenge: to create an efficient bilingual word mark. A star replaces the hyphen used only in French, while also symbolizing the significant Acadian heritage of Grand Pré. The logo pays homage to Glooscap and the high bluffs of Blomidon, the 17th century Acadian dyke system, current day farming practice, and the Acadian memorial.


In Red Bay, the brand and the built environment are inextricably linked. In this system, a single metaphor (the “portal”) and a unifying set of proportions guides the form of everything, including the Red Bay logo, the shape of the monument, and the form of all signs in the system.