Published on July 7, 2021
“EVERYTHING I DO TODAY WAS LAID OUT FOR ME IN MY YOUTH…”
By Madeleine Champagne & Anne Darche, published in INTÉRIEURS 60, SAISON, ANNÉE and updated by Juli Pisano for INT. design in 2021.
Here She Comes…
Paula Meijerink arrives at M2 in Mile-End, red mane in the wind, solid as a sunflower, a flexible and dancing reed, here she is the landscape architect who is the new director of the School of Landscape Architecture of the Université de Montréal and who started a master’s program in landscape architecture there in the fall of 2012.
Born on a dairy farm in the Netherlands, in the charming village of Losser, her father Herman expected her to participate fully in the life of the estate. So during the August harvest at noon, she and her mother Teresia would bring a basket of food and black coffee to the fields.
Losser, Netherlands, 1967 – Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, CC BY-SA 4.0
Came the Epiphany
Eyes twinkling above a wide radiant smile, Paula remembers: “We were outside, the trees gave us shade, the grass was soft and smelled sweet, birds were singing especially the leeuwerik (lark) and the kievit, (lapwing). Their wings batting produced a distinctive sound. I was happy, I was serene, I felt in communion with people and with nature and this is why I say that everything I do today was laid out for me from these very moments.”
After a BA in the International Agricultural School, a study in Philosophy at the University of Utrecht, a Master in Landscape architecture from Harvard with merit, came Martha Schwartz, passionate extraordinaire, American landscaper and artist, proudly standing at the intersection of landscaping, art and urbanism.
“We are situated at the intersection of landscape, art and urbanism, and we are committed to the design of urban landscapes and the public realm as the foundation for sustainable cities that are healthy in all aspects and sectors of urban life.” This is Ms Schwartz’s manifesto. It became Ms Meijerink ‘s credo.
Asphalt Dragon, New York, USA, 2010. Photo credit: Anita Kan.
Winner New York Department of Transportation’s Urban Art Program.
Design: Paula Meijerink and Kris Lucius
To put this philosophy into practice, in 2001, in Boston, Paula Meijerink founded with a partner SE BUSCA/WANTED. The vision of this Boston-based company whose modus vivendi was to consider the landscape from a political point of view and to see the act of landscape design as an actor of change, directly intervening on the cultural dimensions that underlie a development project.
All You Need Is Love…
Called on to collaborate at the Festival international de Métis in 2003 with an imaginative project called Asphalt Garden, she sees the other side of the groves (literally) a friendly and open face that smiles on her, that of the architect Thierry Beaudoin.
Then follows a ten-year courtship, Montreal Boston! (Note: Thierry made the Montreal Boston trip by bike to keep up the pace, this is love, this is cool.)
Today, Paula and Thierry are partners in the company Wanted, they live in the Mile-End (where else?) And had Niko, Noé and Yenska.
Note to self: Thierry’s slippers are beautiful yellow clogs, a nod to his partner’s Netherlands.
Asphalt Garden, Métis International Garden Festival. Finalist international competition, Québec, 2003.
Photo credit: Jean-Claude Hurni. Design team: Michele Adrian, Paula Meijerink for WANTED/SE BUSCA
Without Thierry, I’d Be Nothing…
So says Paula … actually they both espouse the same philosophy and have undertaken projects that brought out the political, social, and poetic aspects of landscape architecture.
So much So That She Proclaims…
If I wanted to be anything at all, I would have been a politician: design for me is an act of change.
The McCord Museum Urban Forest
Designed by Paula Meijerink, the pedestrian street La Forêt Urbaine extended, in the summer of 2011 and 2012, from rue Sherbrooke to rue Président-Kennedy.
Taxi drivers nicknamed it ‘the purple street’, a swing has been added to it. 44,000 visitors in 2011 and 120,000 visitors in 2012 came with a smile on their face! Remarkably, this alley was so loved that there was no record of vandalism.
Forêt urbaine/Urban Forest 2020, Montréal, Qc, Canada
Photo credit :Marilyn Aitken
Client: McCord Museum with the City of Montreal
Design: WANTED landscape llc, collaboration with Melinda Hart
Quincy Street, Boston
WANTED Paysage was entrusted with the creation of a playground in a disadvantaged Boston neighbourhood. Quite the challenge!
It’s a challenge because Paula finds that kids in the 21st century suffer from a profound nature deficit, which she actually calls ‘a nature-deficit disorder.’ She thinks that children (and adults, of course) should go outside for play, for poetry, to see things grow, to understand the cycle of life and death.
And what was her main goal as director of the Department of Architecture of the School of Landscape Architecture at the Faculty of Planning at the University of Montreal?
To establish a master’s degree in landscape architecture. Why? Because the challenges in landscape architecture are more and more complex and require us to go further than looking beautiful.
Today, major development projects must involve several dimensions such as sustainable development, heritage landscapes, urban agriculture and the densification of cities.
As part of a master’s degree, this plurality can be developed and integrated into architecture and urban plans. But beware: this master’s degree in landscape architecture is professional, and therefore aims above all to train landscape architects and not researchers in the field.
And what are the essential qualities to be a landscape architect?
Paula Meijerink responds bluntly: ‘Imagination and critical thinking, telling prospective students, “Welcome aboard!”
All with a whiff of GUCCI Eau de Parfum (her favourite scent), maybe watching Babette’s Feast (her favourite film), eating crème brûlée (her péché mignon) and dreaming of deserts, any deserts, Moab in USA or Roraima in Venezuela or, why not, le Grand Nord.
And she loves Montreal, but finds l’Île Sainte-Hélène a bit under-appreciated (ce serait un chouette projet que de la lui confier!) and would love to give a there there to Montreal’s Underground City.
A complex, vibrante, articulate woman who will add pazass to the École d’architecture de paysage of the Faculté de l’aménagement de l’Université de Montréal.
IIle de Sainte-Hélène – Early Autumn view of Ile Sainte-Helene cc licensed photo by abdallahh
Thus said Montaigne…
“Nature can and does everything”.
This year, Paula was a part of the very first international jury of the GRANDS PRIX DU DESIGN. For the occasion, we asked her to answer a Proust-style questionnaire. Check out her answers and learn more about the woman with the heart of a politician, Paula Meijerink!