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Benchmark is an international design competition which culminates in permanent installations along the trail systems in the city of Winnipeg and beyond.  The design challenge to reimagine the bench has attracted entries from all over the world: 5 continents, 21 countries, 7 provinces and 12 U.S. states. 

Benchmark is an open competition, made possible through the generous support of: The David Penner Fund and Trails Manitoba.

Announcing our 2023 Benchmark competition winner:

Four Nesting Loops by Thom Fougere

Benchmark 2023 competition winner: "FOUR NESTING LOOPS". Circular steel benches amoungst trees in the Victoria Beach Trail.

Jury summary comments from Eduard Epp

David loved to walk in the parkland forest surrounding Lake Winnipeg at Victoria Beach. The forest setting allowed him to reconfigure his thought world and align his imagination with nature’s affordances. Gaston Bachelard wrote, in his Poetics of Space, about the heightened sense of being and awareness that a forest setting can invoke and of ‘getting lost in a body of impressions’ as one walks deeper into the woods. He wrote of ‘losing oneself in the detail of light and shade’ and of feeling to be in the presence of an ‘essential impression seeking expression’. This phenomenon of experience transcended geography in Bachelard’s view, such that one is faced with a sense of ‘immediate immensity’, of hidden grandeur and awe. 


The bench, in memory of David Penner, can be thought of as a memorial and as place to rest while on a walk. The bench can also be conceived as an ‘instrument’ through which one becomes acutely aware of the forest setting and of engaging nature in unforeseen ways. In short, to experience immensity. Beyond meeting the criteria of sustainability and of functionality (engagement), all of the 5 shortlisted projects applied Einstein’s dictum to ‘make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler’. Moreover, these 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 (comprised of David’s family, former colleagues and friends) were of one mind in choosing the winning project titled, ‘4 Nesting Loops’. 

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. The judicious placement of the 4 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’.

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