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, such as 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 nowadays 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.
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.
SINAI has introduced new and improved existing clearings in Forest Park in Bad Lippspringe to establish a sequence of mysterious and dynamic 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.
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 forest more tangible and the contrast more clear.
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.
In a similar way to the Shores of Girona, Archstoyanie Park was also established by clearing existing young forest and inserting programme, in many cases on the edges. The park was designed to accommodate the open-air sculpture festival Archstoyanie in Russia.
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.
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 big difference.
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.
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.
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 ‘temple’, rather than creates it.
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. Signing of the armistice made a similar cut into the wild continuity of violence raging for 4 years. Although the designers offer a different explanation, the round-shaped beds seem to reference craters caused by bombs.
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.
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 ‘another world’ that needs to be contained.
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.
Alexandra Forest Walk by Look Architects in Singapur looks a bit heavy, but one has to admit that the height is impressive.
White Mansion is a private garden of a historic villa, where Studio AKKA masterfully combined multiple approaches to effectively work with the forest’s topographical and historical facts. Trees were thinned, paths defined, old trees marked, new elements added and new views discovered. All this in the cold embrace of the ‘deep green’.
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.
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.
And for the end, an all-time classic, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker dancing to Steve Reich’s Violin Phase. In a forest.
Every landscape architect should be well-aware of the role of forests both in environmental and social sense. Forests are dark and seem wild, so clearings feel liberating and secure. Visibility is low which makes forest misterious or even terrifying. One can get lost pretty quickly, so paths are of paramount importance. For landscape architects forests may be attractive as there are more tools for playing with the natural light and volumes.