25 March, 2024

Designing in and for Nature: A Conversation with Thom Fougere

Multiple Nesting loops in forest. Photo by Thom Fougere

Thom Fougere is a designer and architect originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba, who relocated to Montreal, Quebec, in 2021 and established Thom Fougere Studio. His focus is on furniture, architecture and design. In 2023, Thom entered the Benchmark design competition, run by Storefront Manitoba and Trails Manitoba, in which designers submit proposals to “reimagine the bench”, with the winning entry to be chosen for permanent installation in the City of Winnipeg and area.

Thom’s entry, Nesting Loops, striking circular benches of varying sizes, was selected as the winning design. Part art installation, part communal sitting area, the seven-bench design was recently installed along the Trans Canada Trail in Victoria Park, Manitoba.

Honouring architect David Penner’s legacy

Nesting Loops by Thom Fougere

“The location of Nesting Loops pays homage to the late David Penner, founder of Storefront Manitoba. His family cabin is just off the Trail near the spot for the installation,” Thom explains. The Penner family chose the spot as a midway point between their cabin and Victoria Beach, a popular outdoor destination in the area.

Designing Nesting Loops on Manitoba trails from thousands of kilometres away

A man carrying a part of the nesting loop wooden material

Thom describes the design process as “an abstract proposal,” since he was based in Montreal and the site is in Manitoba. It helped that he was familiar with the area, and staff at Storefront Manitoba assisted with site photos. When Nesting Loops was chosen as the winning design and Thom visited the site, the location ended up shifting slightly to accommodate the design and the user experience.

“Embedding yourself in nature”

Nesting Loops by Thom Fougere

Thom views Nesting Loops as a design focused on user experience, one that complements its natural surroundings and enhances people’s appreciation of the forest around them. His design approach aims to get people to “remove yourselves from the day-to-day and embed yourself in nature. It’s not necessarily about the installation itself; it’s more about what you see through it.” Thom says Nesting Loops’s contrast to its natural surroundings causes viewers to look at their surroundings with fresh eyes. He says, “It helps you slow down and really look around. It’s almost creating a tool to experience nature in a different way.”

Communal, contemplative benches

The Nesting Loops themselves offer different experiences depending on which loop the user is sitting on. They vary in size – the largest can accommodate a group of people, while the smaller sizes accommodate one person at a time. They are made of raw aluminum with a pitted texture, which gives them a soft grey appearance, though Tom notes the loops will eventually tarnish as they age.

Minimizing material waste through design

Thom describes his creative approach as pragmatic. “I was aiming to make a bold statement with material efficiency,” he says. He opted to use two 4- by 8-foot sheets of aluminum, cutting concentric circles nesting in one another, to avoid wasting any material.

Thom Fougere Nesting Loops Diagram

Inspiring conversation and connection along the Trans Canada Trail

Over the two-day installation along the Victoria Beach Trail in September 2023, part of the Trans Canada Trail network, Thom fielded questions from trail users: “People walking with their dogs, cyclists, parents with strollers … people were curious!” he says. “Kids were particularly intrigued, interacting with the loops in different ways – sitting, running around in circles, or climbing on them – simply enjoying the experience,” he says.

Trail users can find Nesting Loops installed along the Victoria Beach Trail.

Thom Fougere is a designer and architect based in Montreal, Quebec. Nesting Loops is Thom’s second foray into designing in nature. Another of his outdoor installations, NIX, a collaboration with artist Wanda Koop, was an interactive snow sculpture that people could inhabit. Learn more about Thom and check out his work here.