Wilderness & Exodus: the Production of a National Landscape

01_Conceptual Image

Wilderness & Exodus explores the construction of new languages of national identity and ecology in the anthropocene by reimagining the Trans-Canada Highway as Canada’s next national park. The design approach proffers an alternative to current national park design methods, which reinforce a binary nature-as-other mentality. Instead, it recognizes and includes anthropomorphic biomes (anthromes) as ecologically significant landscape types, generating spatial experiences which implicate and involve human ecological processes.

A master plan delineating a new moving border, along with five roadside viewing areas along the highway transect, reframe a continuum of representative anthromes between the protected nature of Banff National Park, and the urban nature of the City of Calgary.
The transformation of the highway from a former vector of wilderness exodus into a place for registering new perceptions and experiences of nature, enables visitors to become agents of positive change in the production of a new national landscape.


Since the 1950’s, the weekend drive 1-3 hours to a higher elevation away from cities has been a democratic automobile-driven North American custom involving the ritualistic exodus of urban populations from metropolitan centres to sacred landscapes, to worship natural monuments and recreate. This phenomenon is integral to the role that landscape plays in shaping Canadian Identity.

Canada Diagrams

It can be argued that these sublime landforms are rooted in an innate terrain: the border of Canada roughly matches the area entirely covered by ice in the last ice age.

Canada Diagrams

The national parks are a popular destination acting as living repositories of images of wilderness, with a mandate to represent each Canadian ecozone with a park.

Canada Diagrams

However, settlements, agricultural/productive landscapes, and resource landscapes are anthropogenic biomes – anthromes – which constitute a more accurate representation of national landscapes not currently recognized by any protected system.

These research postcards explore how the perceptions of Canadian landscapes have changed over time in art and popular culture.

Traditionally, the work of Landscape architects in national parks has operated at two scales – master planning park boundaries, and detailed design of monument-oriented viewing areas.

National parks are bound by water, landform, or political boundaries, revealing themselves as human constructions – nature anthromes. At a detailed design scale, the current landscape viewing experience in national parks reinforces a binary nature-as-other mentality and the preservation vs. conservation ideologies that birthed them.

Bringing the national park relevance in the anthropocene demands a more holistic view of nature through the designation of anthromes as ecologically significant, and spatial experiences which implicate and involve human ecological processes.


The Trans-Canada Highway, itself a highway anthrome, is a unique and nationally significant example of a vector in wilderness exodus which transects several major cities, all Canadian provinces, and a representative sampling of anthromes and ecological zones.

A 200km stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway connecting the City of Calgary to Banff National Park transects five representative anthromes – city, farm, reserve, resource, and national park – acting as a test site for design along the entire national highway.


Using Henri Lefebvre’s “The Production of Space” as a framework for analysis, space is understood or produced in a combination of three ways:

The conceived space of designers delineates what is a city, park, or significant landform; the perceived space of imagination contains perceptions of pristine wilderness or idyllic agricultural settings; and the lived or experienced space of users operates at the scale and speed of the highway. These spaces are represented respectively in the drawings as layers of black measured line drawing, postcards, and aerial or experiential photographs.

Currently, the three types of space produce distinct readings, suggesting landscape architects can better mediate the problematic disparity between postcard images of nature and reality to communicate more nuanced understandings of nature and wilderness concepts through the creation of space.

Sections act as an analytical tool to determine sites of detailed intervention and to understand the spatial and experiential qualities of the built environment, generating five sites, each representing an anthrome type with distinct readings of space.


The master plan is a provisional trail map delineating multiple curated experiences along a continually changing border. The edge of the park refuses to prioritize a single species or land claim approach, instead involving visitors in contemporary integrated ecological management. Visitors crowdsource the boundary, populating the most desirable experiences, while simultaneously demarcating the boundary of the park.

This boundary method succeeds traditional preservation/conservation approaches to recognize that borders change with ecological flows and priorities of the time and the people who use them.


Roadside viewing areas for visitors to experience anthromes constitute the program for detailed design. The platforms for postcard moments operate at the speeds and scales of vehicles and pedestrians, translating stories of local landscape into amplified roadside anthromes and heightened viewing experiences.



is a parking lot and picnic park for a historic drive thru – soon to be surrounded by 10 storey buildings with no setbacks. It celebrates a decades-old burger joint popular with both locals and tourists, as a place for continued connections between people, the primary species in an urban ecology.

A local vernacular of hardy urban species, such as Green Ashes blown over from Calgarian backyards, germinate in swales. Curbs and drains – the language of automobile landscapes – direct and store neighbourhood stormwater runoff to maintain three different types of grass in the park to correspond with usage intensity – empty lot germinators, sodded lawn, and artificial turf. 





divides the area of a 1 in 4 year planting cycle agricultural area into four linear productive median fields to support the cultivation of Canadian-invented cash crop Canola. The farm extends the length of the arable agricultural zone on the site, fed by highway runoff, acting as a federally managed productive buffer between GMO and non GMO farms to investigate the phenomenon of seeds blowing into neighbors’ fields. A border trail at the edge curates a muddy hike in a ha-ha ditch to view cultivated cattle in their natural environs. Cattle eat the dried canola stems, forming a complete food chain of Alberta farms.

18_Farm Site Plan19_Farm Section Perspective



Reserve Postcard

depresses the highway up to 3m lower in the earth, removing it from the sight lines of Stoney Nakoda first nations reserve citizens, while creating a compressed space for reflection by exposing the glacial till of the surrounding drumlin field. Passers-by witness the constantly eroding steep gravel slopes regularly being stabilized by highway workers with native and colonial flowers in a new poetic ritual of healing in a place with turbulent native and colonial history.

Viewing areas of corrugated steel and reflective glass at interchanges reframe the highway as a scar cutting violently through the already marginalized reserve, acting as gateways to services that directly and respectfully support the local economy.

21_Reserve Context Plan22_Reserve Site Plan

23_Reserve Section Perspective




foreground a lake formed by alluvial deposits and a historic cement plant. The geometries of an automobile pullout and linear concrete walls combine to frame views of cement and power plants. Between each wall, materials demonstrate the processes of deliberate erosion and ongoing sedimentation in a set of geologic beaches and pools. Cement and concrete production are illustrated by the succession of limestone boulders, cement clinker, aggregate, and recycled concrete, and lake motions treat the swimming pool wall as a jetty, accumulating Bow River sediment against a kite surfing dock, all succeeded by hardy, self-seeding riverside plantings.

25_exshaw-context-plan.jpg26_Exshaw Site Plan

27_Exshaw Section Perspective




are anchored by a washing lot graded lower than the highway, freeing undercarriages and tyres of visiting vehicles from non-native species that might violate the original national park’s strict planting policy. Leaving the roadside viewing area, grooved asphalt impregnated with native seeds in the toll booth area supplant newly wetted tyres, to be redistributed stopover points with wildlife crossings, where passing animals further their distribution. Instead of a threat, the car becomes a participatory vector in beauty strip management throughout the first national park.

29_banff-context-plan.jpg30_Banff Site Plan

31_Banff Section Perspective

Like the canola field and gravel slopes, this new conceived space collapses the perceptions of idyllic canola fields and lush forests with the lived experiences of the site, implicating and involving visitors in its production.

Final Thesis Panels v2.indd

Altogether, the five roadside viewing areas highlight integration of human process in nature to opportunistically produce new national landscapes. They intentionally reorganize views to frame postcard photographic moments of unique anthropomorphic biomes, generating more multivalent understandings of identity and nature. They use design to tell stories of local landscape – Canadian heritage minutes – that favour material details of the viewing platform over the landscapes they frame.

Final Thesis Panels v2.indd

The reimagined Trans-Canada Highway demonstrates the emergence of a formidable new national park system, reframing the human migration network across North America as a place for operative roadside landscapes to affect positive ecological change, in practice, perception, and experience.

Additional project credits: Alissa North, Faculty Advisor; Martin Hogue and Fionn Byrne, Secondary Advisors; U of A Peel Postcard Collection.

Further Projects