The LA+ EXOTIQUE design ideas competition asks entrants to design the forecourt of the Museum of Natural History in Paris. The museum was founded in 1793 during the French Revolution, though the site had been used as a royal garden of medicinal plants since 1635. The site is located on the left bank of the River Seine and sits within the Jardin des Plantes, which are 28-hectare grounds that include exterior gardens and a zoo (Ménagerie), with five galleries in the museum precinct: Gallery of Evolution, Gallery of Mineralogy and Geology, Gallery of Botany, Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy, and Large Greenhouses (Grandes Serres). All of these could be considered inspiration for your design. The Museum is not just a collection of fossils, it is an active research institution studying the evolution of life on this planet, and its occupants, both human and nonhuman.

Obviously, this location provides rich thematic connections to questions of colonialism, taxonomy, endemism, and exoticism. The degree to which your design relates to these themes and the museum itself is at your discretion. Whether (and, if so, how) the space is curated by the museum, or whether it functions autonomously as a themed area within the broader context of the  Jardins des Plantes or some combination thereof, is also at your discretion. Similarly, you will have to decide upon the degree to which your design might include botanical material, and how it relates to garden history more broadly. (Please note that the Museum and the Jardin des Plantes are not formally associated with this competition; however, for the hypothetical purposes of this competition, entrants can assume that both institutions are willing partners.)

In the tradition of past LA+ competitions entrants are encouraged to challenge and extend the competition’s conceptual terms of reference and the way in which ideas are represented. This openness is not, however, to be confused with conceptual and spatial vagary: designs are expected to be legible and resolved both conceptually and in terms of their spatial and material relationship to the site. The drawings, images, and accompanying written statement must be legible and accurate. While the competition emphasizes conceptual richness over buildability, it is important to note that designs will be judged as real proposals and therefore their degree of suitability for this specific location will be considered. We hasten to add that Paris has a fine history of building projects that challenge conservative conceptions of what may or may not be considered “suitable.” While budget is not a consideration the form, function, and materiality of entries will be of interest to the jury.

Entry requires three sheets of images (which should conform to the competition template) and a 350-word supporting text explaining the design concept. In addition, entrants are asked to name their design and provide a 1–2 sentence abstract or “pitch” describing the proposal.


·       Ursula Heise, Imagining Extinction (University of Chicago Press, 2016).

·       Irus Braverman, Wild Life: The Institution of Nature (Stanford University Press, 2015).

·       Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction (Henry Holt & Co., 2014).

·       Emma Marris, The Rambunctious Garden (Bloomsbury, 2013).

·       Patrick Mauriès, Cabinets of Curiosities (Thames & Hudson, 2019).

·       Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science (John Murray, 2016).

·       Alice Proctor, The Whole Picture: The colonial story of the art in our museums... and why we need to talk about it (Cassell, 2020).

·       Daisy Dixon, “Review: ‘The Whole Picture: The colonial story of the art in our museums...and why we need to talk about it’” British Journal of Aesthetics 61, no. 3 (2021).

·       Louise Wickham, Gardens in History: A Political Perspective. ( Windgather Press, 2012).

·       William Taylor, (1998) “The cultivation of reason: functionalism and the management of nature”, Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes 18, no. 2 (1998), 130–44.

·       Fred Pearce, The New Wild (Beacon Press, 2016).

·       Richard Weller, “Animals” in Richard Weller & Tatum Hands (eds), The Landscape Project (AR+D Publishing, 2023).

·       Sonja Dümpelmann, “Plants” in Richard Weller & Tatum Hands (eds), The Landscape Project (AR+D Publishing, 2023).

·       Christopher Marcinkoski, “Public” in Richard Weller & Tatum Hands (eds), The Landscape Project (AR+D Publishing, 2023).

·       Oshinsky, Sara J. “Exoticism in the Decorative Arts,” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004).

·       Exoticism,” The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia.

·       David Carrier, “How Exotic can Exotic Art Be?” in A World Art History and its Objects (Penn State University Press, 2008).

·       Charles Forsdick, Defining the Exotic: Exoticism as an Approach to Radical Diversity” in Victor Segalen and the Aesthetics of Diversity: Journeys Between Cultures (Oxford University Press, 2000).  

·       Zaheer Baber, “The Plants of Empire: Botanic Gardens, Colonial Power and Botanical Knowledge,” Journal of Contemporary Asia 46, no. 4 (2016).

·       Anna-Katharina Laboissière, “Collect, Save, Adapt: Making and Unmaking Ex Situ Worlds,” Cultural Studies Review 25, no. 1 (2019).

·       Donald Rakow & Sharon Less, “Western Botanical Gardens: History and Evolution,” Horticultural Reviews 43 (2015), ch. 5.

Got suggestions for other readings? Let us know.


June 20, 2023

October 30, 2023 at 11.59pm (US Eastern Time)

December 15, 2023

The LA+ EXOTIQUE issue will be published in Fall 2024.

Total prize pool USD $10,000

SITE: Forecourt of the Museum national d’histoire naturelle in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris. Image: (c) Google Earth. *Click here for more site views and to download the competition template.

USD $2,500 each, a certificate, and feature publication in LA+ EXOTIQUE

Certificate, and feature publication in LA+ EXOTIQUE

LA+ Journal’s Editor in Chief will choose one notable but unawarded entry to receive publication in the LA+ EXOTIQUE Salon Des Refusés.

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