April 16, 2024

In conversation with Matt Humphries, Associate Principal at ARUP in Canada


The Climate Ready Schools Conversation Series connects those interested in transforming school grounds with the expertise of key leaders who have partnered with Evergreen on climate adaptive design projects.

Evergreen’s Climate Ready Schools builds on our 30-year legacy of transforming school grounds across Canada into nature-rich play and learning environments for both children and their communities. The Climate Ready Schools Conversation Series is focused on connecting people and organizations interested in this important work with the knowledge and expertise of key leaders and change advocates who have partnered with Evergreen on these innovative climate adaptive design projects.

Portrait of Matt Humphries, Associate Principal at ARUP in Canada

Matt Humphries is an Associate Principal at ARUP in Canada. He is a Professional Engineer who specializes in social infrastructure and focuses on resilient neighbourhoods. Matt leads design teams in an integrated fashion to solve his clients’ challenges and was a key consultant on the Irma Coulson pilot project. 

What excites you about Climate Ready Schools? 

Climate Ready Schools create places for everyone — to play sports, read a book, climb, explore, imagine — while also leveraging the massive space of a school ground for a whole host of other solutions and benefits for the community and the environment.  

In all the projects I work on, I try to find the leveraged benefits that enable us to accomplish more goals with a single project. Climate Ready Schools are at the core of what I think we should be doing as designers and as a society. They benefit student learning and wellbeing, but also support communities and build climate resilience. 

Individual organizations may be focused on their specific priorities, but Evergreen effectively pulls all those different goals together. 

Why did you choose to work with Evergreen as part of your community outreach program? 

ARUP is committed to the communities we work in, and Evergreen is too. Finding an organization that understands what we do and aligns culturally is critical. That’s the fun in this industry — working with people you have fun with to solve problems. 

What are the biggest challenges facing neighbourhoods and cities with respect to climate change? 

Climate change is going to have varied impacts in different places. In cities like Toronto, some of the most significant effects will probably be felt in the form of extreme weather events such as rain or heat. 

How do we design a playground that can adapt to extreme heat? More shade. More trees. More vegetation. Trees are simplest solution that we sometimes don’t harness as well as we could. If you stand under a group of trees, they create their own cooling. On school grounds, a single tree in the middle of asphalt isn’t going to be very effective, but several trees planted thoughtfully and appropriately can make a huge difference. This is just one example of a climate adaptive solution to challenges facing our neighbourhoods. 

Why do you think that school grounds should be at the heart of a neighborhood or city’s climate resiliency plan? 

If we want to create change in communities, there is no greater vehicle than the school. Every community has a school in the middle of it. In Canada, school grounds are open to the public after school hours, so it makes sense that we should invest in them. Schools are the heart of the community! 

What planning and design principles or lenses do you think are important to apply when approaching a school ground redesign project that addresses multiple issues (under the themes of climate, health and well-being, learning)? 

Total architecture! ARUP believes in the value of getting a lot of people into a room to make decisions. Individually, we make decisions that are best for us, but collectively we make decisions that are best for the project. We need to facilitate that process of collaboration, park the ego and figure out how to best work together.  

By adjusting our time and methods to fit other people’s needs, we can come up with solutions that are best for the project. We must put sustainability at the core of everything. As a structural engineer, if I approach projects from the standpoint of sustainability, I’m always looking beyond the easiest and cheapest way and instead looking for the best way. This is how we approached the Irma Coulson pilot.  

What was an important lesson learned from the Irma Coulson pilot? 

When you create a place that is for everyone, you don’t have to deal with conflict because everyone has a place to themselves. Following completion of the Irma Coulson pilot, the lineup outside the principal’s office at recess is basically nonexistent! I thought this might come true, so I was excited when the data supported it. 

Why is it important for school boards and municipalities to work together? 

We can achieve goals for both with a single project by working across boundaries. It’s important to understand how a great design in a school yard can support the resilience of a community. We must leverage as many benefits as possible from what we have. A school yard presents a huge opportunity to do more while building less. 

Are there other innovation partnerships that you think are important to pursue in these types of projects? 

There is a significant opportunity for further research to determine the best approach to greening school grounds, to analyze the benefits of different outcomes of the pilot through an academic lens. There is a huge opportunity for industry, for organizations like Evergreen, school boards and others to collaborate and be innovative together. 

How can senior leadership at a school board build better connections with the municipality to advance this work? 

If you enable people, you might be surprised by how far they’ll go. Instead of thinking that you yourself need to be the innovator and singlehandedly lead change, enable others. Facilitate interactions between boards and government, because within each of those organizations are people with great energy and ideas. Evergreen does this really well — empowering people and bringing them together. 

How can the engineering, planning and design professions contribute to the success of Climate Ready Schools? 

Cross-disciplinary relationships really improve the outcomes and make Climate Ready Schools more successful. We need to have people who trust each other and collaborate openly, and it needs to be from early planning to the end of construction. We’re talking about doing things differently, so we must do things differently. We need to be in a room with people who want to try new things.  

There’s a new form of procurement called Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) where everyone involved signs the same contract. When everyone signs the same contract, we’re all in this together and we have the same outcomes of wanting a project to cost a certain amount of money. We sit together and collaborate on the ideas, and we see that the outcome is better. It’s a marriage. We are doing things together for the collective good. It’s about us! 

Is there anything else you want to highlight in support of Climate Ready Schools? 

I’m so grateful to the philanthropic partners that currently fund this Climate Ready Schools work. I wish that it didn’t need to be funded by philanthropy — that there was funding readily available from all angles. This work is so important — it should be so easy for people to see that the right thing to do is to invest in well-designed things that are part of our communities. 

Learn More 

Are you interested in supporting the Climate Ready Schools program? Are you representing a school board interested in your own Climate Ready Schools journey? Please send your inquiries to We’d love to hear from you! 

Want to learn more? Check out our wealth of resources on the Evergreen Resource Hub! 

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