Every landscape architect should be well-aware of the role of forests both in an environmental and social sense. When writing this, COP26 in Glasgow has just brought us new promises concerning global forest preservation, and we have yet to see if they will prove fiction or reality.

Speaking about fiction, in myths, forests often represent a magical space where both good and evil can reside. Across the centuries, forests were a great source of astonishment for painters and authors, most notably perhaps romanticism in the 19th century. In the 20th century, we somehow managed to inhabit them with all sorts of evil forces, remember so many crime stories, or movies like Blairwitch Project, Apocalypse Now, Deliverance … 

Forests are dark and seem wild, so clearings feel liberating and secure. Visibility is low, which makes the forest mysterious or even terrifying. One can get lost pretty quickly, so paths are of paramount importance. To landscape architects, forests may be attractive to design as there are more tools for playing with the natural light and volumes.

As the selection of the projects below can prove, landscape architects can bring forests closer to people in a meaningful and careful way. We maintain what we appreciate, and empowering bonds between landscapes and people is one of the most important tasks of our profession.

In our interview with the well-known Dutch office Karres en Brands, Sylvia Karres said that their approach to designing the Loenen Cemetery extension was to act as “a guest in the forest, rather than dominate it”. I suppose that can set the frame for observing a couple of poetic examples and examples that demonstrate different approaches to designing forests.

Designing from scratch

It is not that often that landscape architects would be hired to design a forest where there has been none. It is a bit easier if such a project is located in a climate where vegetation growth is turbocharged by warm temperatures and a lot of water. TK Studio designed The Metro-Forest Project in Bangkok, Thailand, where an abandoned site of 2-hectares (4.75 acres) now hosts approximately 60,000 trees of more than 279 unique species.

The Metro-Forest by TK Studio, Bangkok, Thailand, 2014.

Curating Light

SINAI has introduced new and improved existing clearings in Forest Park in Bad Lippspringe to establish a sequence of mysterious and romantic ambiences. Additions to the historic layout contribute significantly to the experience of the forest. Some trees were thinned or removed for the sunlight to reach the perennials.

Forest Park by SINAI, Bad Lippspringe, Germany, 2017

Strengthening the existing

Studio Vulkan, with Robin Winogrond, introduced a strong ring of trees in the Zurich Airport park to make the existing relation between the meadow and the young forest more tangible and the contrast more clear.

LILA 2021 winner: The Park, recreational area Butzenbüel at Zurich Airport by Studio Vulkan and Robin Winogrond, Zurich, Switzerland, 2021

Design by maintenance / Cutting out

Many may remember the aftermath of the financial crisis, where there was a significant drop in work, and many offices shrank; some barely survived. As a passionate and restless landscape architect, LILA winner Marti Franch offered his services to the Municipality of his hometown of Girona for free for a pilot project. Specifically, he asked if the team of workers who maintain the green areas around Girona could work under his supervision. The result was a concise master plan and a green landscape system under the motto ‘big and cheap’. Modest measures were implemented, and the quality of the spaces was improved significantly. The Girona Shores project is ongoing.

LILA 2020 winner: Girona’s Shores by EMF Landscape Architecture, Girona, Spain, 2020, ongoing


In a similar way to the Shores of Girona, Archstoyanie Park was also established by clearing the existing young forest and inserting programme, in many cases on the edges. The curated forest is left to develop further and maintained by further curation of tree species. The park was designed to accommodate the open-air sculpture festival Archstoyanie in Russia. Wagon Landscaping described the project in detail in this lecture.

Archstoyanie Park by Wagon Landscaping, Russia, 2018

Finding Paths

In Strandskogen Arninge Ullna, Topia landscape architects were dealing with revealing existing ambiences by choreographing visitors’ movement through this dense riparian forest on elevated walkways. This way, they have minimised the impact of people staying in the woods and enabled them to visit the site in times of higher waters.

Strandskogen Arninge Ullna by Topia landskapsarkitekter, Stockholm, Sweden, 2014

Marking views

Ika Meditation Spot by batlab architects and studio nomad, similar to the Strandskogen Arninge Ullna, marked dramatic views and exciting spots for observation of the natural processes in this Transylvanian forest. When the budget is low, these kinds of simple interventions can make a difference as they suggest one’s drift through the forest.

Ika Meditation Spot by batlab architects / studio nomad, Transylvania, Romania, 2015

Clearing forest floor

One of the early and most famous forest projects is Skogskyrkogården by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz. Being on the burial grounds below these utterly majestic pine trees makes you feel small, like in a cathedral. There is a strong presence and calmness. Contrary to most of the projects in this selection, Skogskyrkogården doesn’t make tangible or recognisable shapes of clearings where graves would be found. Instead, the forest is forest and graves and trees seem interwoven and well in balance.

Skogskyrkogården by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz, Stockholm, Sweden, 1920

Making rooms, the intimacy of the forest

In the Loenen Memorial Cemetery Extension, Karres en Brands appropriately emphasised the contrast between being ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the clearing, perhaps as a metaphor for the afterlife, especially with the high pine trees on the other side of the wall, reaching towards the sky.

Loenen Memorial Cemetery Extension by Karres en Brands, Loenen, The Netherlands, 2021

Similar sacral effect was achieved by Rozana Montiel in the truly outstanding Void Temple project. By both a bold and yet at the same time light intervention adds to the contemplative ambience. It seems as if the ring marks the sanctuary, the ‘temple’, rather than creates it.

Void Temple by Rozana Montiel | Estudio de Arquitectura, Mexico, 2011

The Third Train by Gilles Brusset marks the site where the famous WWI armistice had been signed in an armoured coach. The project deals with memory and reflection on the cataclysmic events of the First World War. In a clearing, a long wooden structure makes a cut as if it acts as a metaphor for the train/armistice. The signing of the armistice made a similar cut into the wild continuity of violence raging for four years. Although the designers offer a different explanation, the round-shaped beds seem to reference craters caused by bombs.

The Third Train by Gilles Brusset, France, 2019

The Bluff by OMGEVING is also a ‘warscape’, still full of subterranean remains of ammunition and soldiers, trenches and water-filled bomb craters. The designers were faced with emphasising a violent historic moment buried under 100 years of overgrowing. The heavy presence of the soil seems quiet in a brutal way, and the overgrowth renders time visible.

The Bluff by OMGEVING, Belgium, 2015

Sacro Bosco

Contrary to making a clearing in the forest is making a forest in the clearing. For the Wernigerode Show, hutterreimann + cejka Landscape Architecture ’closed down’ a patch of forest, essentially emphasising its mysterious and wild nature, the sense of ‘an other world’ that needs to be contained.

Wernigerode Show by hutterreimann + cejka Landscape Architecture, Germany, 2006

In the tree-tops

Cycling Through Limburg offers a tree-top experience to cyclists by spiralling the cycling track upwards and then descending to the ground level.

Cycling through the Trees by BuroLandschap, Belgium, 2019

Path in The Forest was a project for a festival in Estonia by Tetsuo Kondo Architects. It is included in this selection as the skywalk structure looks so thin and effortless.

Path in The Forest by Tetsuo Kondo Architects, Tallin, Estonia, 2011

Alexandra Forest Walk by Look Architects in Singapur looks a bit heavy, but one has to admit that the height is impressive.

Alexandra Arch & Forest Walk by Look Architects, Singapore, 2008

Responsive design

White Mansion is a private garden of a historic villa, where Studio AKKA masterfully combined multiple approaches to work with the forest’s topographical and historical facts effectively. Trees were thinned, paths defined, old trees marked, new elements added and new views discovered. 

White Mansion by Studio AKKA, Bled, Slovenia, 2009

Similarly to the garden, LILA 2019 Honour Award winner Michael van Gessel redesigned Stronghold Grebbeberg. He was thoughtfully answering to many of the notable spatial structures in this historic milieu.

Stronghold Grebbeberg by Michael van Gessel, The Netherlands, 2005

The Rotunda for the Métis Garden Festival by Citylaboratory is a small but powerful element, offering water to the forest fauna and an intense experience for other visitors.

Les Jardins de Métis: Rotunda by Citylaboratory, Canada, 2014

And for the end, an all-time classic, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker dancing to Steve Reich’s Violin Phase. In a forest.

Zaš Brezar


written by Zaš Brezar https://www.linkedin.com/in/zas-brezar/

Published on November 4, 2021

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