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Cultures, Communities and Design

Defining Wilderness: The Evolving Boundaries of Banff National Park
F. Mayer & P. Bernbaum


Wilderness is a term that holds undeniable significance within Canadian culture and has become a celebrated aspect of its’ national identity. This submission is the product of a year-long research project and graduate-level architectural thesis that examined Banff National Park, the history of its boundaries, and the spatial conditions and dichotomies inherent to creating a zone of Wilderness. The project examined how federal park boundaries have acted as legal and spatial tools to regulate and control territory, rather than solely to preserve landscapes. The National Park is investigated through its interactions with industrial interests, cultural landmarks, and historical narratives, dissecting it’s capacity to control intensely layered and contested territories. The paper argues that this complex layering of histories and interests can be understood through a singular—though perhaps ambiguous—prevailing pursuit; to create, control and commercialize an experience of Wilderness. Fundamentally an architectural study of site, the project employed mapping to deconstruct and understand cultural notions of wilderness as portrayed throughout the National Park. Mapping as a methodology is uniquely suited to understanding not only the evolution of the park itself, but the economic and political forces that have guided its development. As stated by James Corner in The Agency of Mapping, maps have the power to reveal the political biases, economic pressures, and cultural values associated with landscapes through the adjacencies that are expressed, or selectively ignored. Through the combination of the written document and visual analysis (6-8 original cartographical figure studies), the paper connects and contrasts historical narratives with physical environments, dissecting overlaps and adjacencies that have previously been overlooked or gone unconnected. Through this examination, the dynamics of power, exclusion, exploitation, and commercialization inherent to the defining of landscapes and boundaries are investigated.


Felix Mayer is a recent graduate from Carleton University, Ottawa where he completed his M. ARCH degree at the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism. Over the past year he has been engaged in a research project focusing on Banff National Park and the spatial conditions created by the park’s evolving boundaries. His work focuses on Canadian history and cultural relationships with wilderness through an analysis of mapping, boundaries, historical imagery, and industrial development within the Canadian Rocky Mountains. His research interests revolve primarily around methods of representation and cartographical depiction, issues of demarcating and commercializing territory, and the use of infrastructure to claim and engage with landscapes. Felix graduated from Dalhousie University in 2017, where he completed his Bachelor’s of Environmental Design Studies degree with a major in the architectural co-op program. During his studies he completed a four-month practicum at Fuchs & Rudolph Architekten in Munich, Germany and upon completing his degree, spent one year working as a junior designer at Landform ADB, Penticton B.C. He is currently engaged in an ongoing research fellowship with the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff, focused on mapping the historical uses, narratives, and industries of Banff National Park.

Piper Bernbaum is an assistant professor at the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism at Carleton University in Canada. She is the recipient of the Prix de Rome for Emerging Practitioners, and the Governor Generals Academic Gold Medal for her work. Piper’s research is focused on the intersection of law and architecture, the considerations and constraints of social and spatial plurality, and the appropriation of space through design. Especially interested in legal-fictions and every-day architectures, Piper’s work looks at community building and the loop-holes found in both inclusive and exclusive environments, and the boundaries that define them. In recent years, Piper has worked on international exhibitions on law, evidence and architecture – being on teams with work exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2016, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto in 2017, and the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum in Washington in 2019. Her methods of research include explorations into field work, photography, spatial narratives, cartography, casting, and drawing as a critical practice.