Forest architecture: work, play, live?

Working, living and playing in a forest environment: is it possible?Selgas Cano’s architectural office near Madrid suggests so. Although critiques of the scheme suggest the ‘look but don’t touch’ approach of the sealed glazing is a limitation of the scheme. Natural ventilation is provided by a hinged pulley system at one end of the building.

Singapore’s Telok Blangah Hill Park’s forest walk constructed 60 feet above the ground demonstrates the ‘gem’ like qualities of a highly urbanised rainforest. Forest green space is valued and rare. One way to preserve the forest, yet to provide visual and physical recreational access, is to construct a forest walk. New questions arise. Do forests and their inhabitants suffer from noise pollution with large visitor numbers? The forest is home to squirrels, sunbirds, doves, lizards and white-crested laughing thrushes.

And then there is Zaha Hadid’s Capital Hill residence located in Barvikha Forest, Russia – taking forest dwelling to new heights.

16 thoughts on “Forest architecture: work, play, live?

  1. Tom Turner

    I went for a job interview at Milton Keynes, in the early days of the city’s design, and was told that the aim was to make a ‘Forest City’. They asked why I wanted to work there and I said this was the reason. I did not get the job and, though they planted a great many trees, they did not make a Forest City (and I did not get the job). I think it would be possible to make a Forest City, and I like the above images very much. Other thoughts (1)a Forest City would have to be rather low density if it was to function like a conventional city (2) it might work best, like an out-outback settlement in Australia, where people work from home and learn from home (not sure where they get their food from!) (3) another way of doing it would be to plant the forest on top of the city – but one would also want to get natural light and sunlight into the buildings (4) the Zaha Hadid project looks like a luxury yacht, deposited on a wooded hill by a Tsunami!

  2. Christine

    Yes. I think it would be possible to make a forest city too. My preference would be to incorporate the forest into the city, rather than the city into the forest (except if it was a ‘new’ managed forest.)

    Tom, perhaps the city father’s of Milton Keynes missed out on their forest city because they did not have the wisdom to hire you? In answer to your thoughts 1-4:

    I wonder what the appropriate density for a forest city might be?

    The first questions might be 1) what type of forest should it be? 2) at what sort of spacing should the trees be placed? 3) how will the trees be managed?

    Perhaps the trees could be food trees. 1) The people could certainly work and learn from home at least some of the time 2) I am a big advocate of face-to-face contact so I also think they should travel to work and learn at least some of the time.

    If the city had some relationship to the topography, some parts of the city could certainly have a forest on top. Green roofs would also increase this possibility.

    Zaha’s project is interesting because the building and nature complement each other. The lower levels use the forest for ‘cover’ (privacy) while the upper viewing level allows the occupants open views across nature (recreation) to the distant mountains without imposing a bulky form above the tree-line.

  3. Christine

    ps. Although Milton Keynes is less of a ‘forest city’ and more a ‘garden city’
    [ ] its tree plantings and innovative maintenance funding model certain add significantly to administrative models for managing a future forest city:

    “The original Development Corporation design concept aimed for a “forest city” and its foresters planted millions of trees from its own nursery in Newlands in the following years. As of 2006, the urban area has 20 million trees. Following the winding up of the Development Corporation the lavish landscapes of the Grid Roads and of the major parks were transferred to The Parks Trust, a charity which is independent from the municipal authority and which was intended to resist pressures to build on the parks over time. The Parks Trust is endowed with a portfolio of commercial properties, the income of which pay for the upkeep of the green spaces, a maintenance model which has attracted international attention.”

  4. Tom Turner

    I was impressed by Joel Garreau’s argument (in Edge City: Life on the New Frontier) that the south of England from Dover to Bristol is in essence a single city. It has some areas which look rural but the lifestyle of almost everyone in this region is inter-connected and urban. Then, if one looks at the ‘countryside’ around London, it is non-agricultureal and the woodland is non-commercial. If it were not protected by planning legislation, which is being progressively relaxed, it would be urbanising very rapidly. So I think the whole region could be designated as an Urban Forest – using ‘Forest’ in its Norman sense (of land subject to special laws) rather than its modern sense of ‘commercial wood-farming’.
    Today’s Royal Wedding should be viewed as a sign and symbol of the tree resuming its rightful place in British culture.

  5. christine

    Hmmm. I wonder if the polarisation that exists in environmental law between concepts of wilderness v concepts of development would be useful? Could the countryside around London be protected as a type of ‘wilderness’, while the existing urban areas are increasingly encroached on by the urban forest?

    After all there will need to be passage for sheep from the agricultural areas surrounding cities to the green pastures on top of highrise buildings…[ ].

    This model would seem to suggest a lessening of density, however, it might result rather in a rethinking of the way density is distributed across cities and urban areas. Some areas may be low, medium or high in density while others may achieve hyper-density. [ ]

    It is interesting to note the fact the author offers – low rise central Paris and high rise New York – achieving the same population density.

    So, yes Tom the distinction highlighted in the discourse on Edge Cities between bedroom spaces (contributing to the 24/7 social life of cities) and work spaces (contributing to the productive economic life of cities) needs greater consideration.

  6. Tom Turner

    Britain is something of a special case with regard to ‘wilderness’. Except for a few debatable patches of remote sea cliff and mountain, we do not have any wilderness. So all the land has been ‘developed’ and there is a case for much of it to be re-developed. Nan Fairbrother had a great phrase for this: ‘We need new landscapes for out new lives’.

    I am hoping (but not really expecting) that the UK will adopt an Australian-style Alternative Vote AV system next week. Do you think it would help free politicians from party-control, so that they can start discussing issues, like Low Density Cities, which make them behave like rabbits? Rabbits in the sense of trying to seem cuddly, copying each other and running for cover at the first sign of trouble.

  7. Christine

    Do you think that some of the developed land could be rehabilitated as ‘wilderness'(ie. considered as natural habitat rather than a place for building and developing)?

    Yes preferential voting is a good system. However, we also have the option of voting for a single winner (“Just vote 1”). Depending on the political landscape at the time of balloting either voting method might be more appropriate. (ie. Sometimes the primary candidate outcome is more important the parliamentary composition or local representation.)

    Not really sure about whether the AV system stops politicans ‘trying to seem cuddly, copying each other and running for cover at the first sign of trouble.’

  8. Tom Turner

    ‘Wilderness’, like virginity, is something which can never be recovered once it has been lost. But the creation of semi-natural habitats is very possible.
    I often think that the current clamour for sustainability is a call for a return to the urban and landscape patterns of the Middle Ages – and the idea of Forest Cities comes into this category. ‘In the year 1000, a bird’s-eye view of Europe would have consisted of a green sea of forest with scattered brown islands of human habitation’. People lived in medieval cities partly for physical protection and it could be that life would become dangerous in a modern low-density Forest Megacity. How would policing work?

  9. Christine

    Huh? Yes, restoring the Post-Ice Age forest cover, half of which had already been burned by settlers by 500BC (would be interesting to see the carbon emissions record of that!) is probably not the best strategy for Britain. “Oliver Rackham in ‘History of the Countryside’ thinks the last of the true Wildwood was cut down in the Forest Of Dean in the thirteenth century.”

    Much ancient wildlife is extinct, and I don’t believe it would be appropriate to re-introduce their smaller existing progeny. [ ]

    And yes, I think that there may be challenges with the re-introduction of brown bears, wolves etc into countries that have eliminated these natural ‘threats’. Perhaps, the Wildlife Park planned in 2006 on the outskirts of Bristol would have been a laboratory for the feasibility of more modern species re-introductions. In the US living with bears and wolves is a contemporary issue. [ ]

    I don’t think a modern forest city (even one with a connection to semi-wilderness) would copy or recreate medieval living.

    What are you referring to when you ask about policing? Changes in surveillance? Different illumination needs for public and private spaces? The re-introduction of highway men? Or Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest?

  10. Tom Turner

    Personal security has always been a major consideration in urban planning, as witnessed by city walls in ancient times and ‘gated communities’ in modern times. Don’t you think security would be a problem in low density Forest Cities? I do not have any evidence for this, and in fact feel much safer in the country than in the town, but it seems to me that if there were to be a profusion of isolated ‘homsteads’ in a forest setting then they would provide easy pickings for burglers.

    I do not think it is possible, or desirable, to go back to medieval conditions but, just as one can draw a parallel between walled cities and gated communities, there may be a developing parallel between low-densitiy cities and the ancient pattern of ‘a green sea of forest with scattered brown islands of human habitation’.

    Wikipedia, often abreast of trends, has an interesting list of Forest Cities. [I woke up early today and heard the BBC World Service announce that ‘The death of Osama Bin Laden has been published on Wikipedia and will soon be announced by the President of the United States’]

  11. christine

    Many places in Australia which are low density have high community values and are considered so safe that people do not lock their doors. [ ]

    This article [ ] suggests suburban living is seen as providing the benefits of relative “safety, privacy and tranquility.”

    Perhaps by creating environments with the benefits of the suburbs, within our cities, in ‘forest cities’ the detrimental impacts of urban sprawl (gobbling up greenfield sites and wilderness) can be abated.

  12. Lawrence

    The largest European forest lying fully inside the city limits is Hannover’s Eilenriede. The forest covers an area of 640 ha and has belonged to the city for over 600 years. It has 80 km of footpaths, 38 km of cycle paths and 11 km of gallops. Many of Hannover’s most desirable residences lie in secluded areas on the outskirts of the forest and do not seem to get continually burgled, although I am sure that this does happen. I guess that they all have good alarm systems. The Eilenriede is extremely beautiful in early spring, its damp soil supporting vast colonies of wood anemone. The preservation of the height of the water table beneath the forest is a source of great preoccupation to the City Fathers, Hannover has the most comprehensive SUDS legislation for developers that I know of.

  13. Tom Turner

    I had some friends who bought a country cottage, furnished it, got married, went on a honeymoon – and returned home to find that the cottage had been completely cleared: every bit of furniture, clothing, cutlery etc. They sold the cottage and moved into a town.

    It is a great idea for cities to own forests. Professional foresters, often castigated at wood butchers, seem no longer able to practice multiple-objective forest management.

  14. Christine

    In NSW property crime seems to be strongly correlated with heroin(and cocaine)use and availability. [$file/cjb85.pdf ] I am not sure if there are any distinctions between the correlations of property crimes between urban and rural areas?

    Thankyou Lawrence for introducing the Eilenriede. It is difficult to say quite what the boundary between a forest and a park might be – particularly when the Eilenriede contains important public art including the turf maze and statute of the Princesses Louise and Fredrica.

    City forests (rather than forest cities), according to Cecil C. Konijnendijk are “cultural forest landcapes that are social and cultural constructs, created on at the meeting point of culture and nature, of the human and the non-human. From an experiential perspective they can be both space and place.”

    There are a number of urban forest movements in the US. Some are predominantly aligned with conservation and recreation, others with ecological and urban objectives. [ ]

  15. Christine

    At present there is a small controversy raging over a proposal to build a zip-line from the top of Mt Cootha through a forest reserve. Zipping close by the nesting site of the powerful owl! The proposal to develop the top of Mt Cootha in Brisbane also has a tree or canopy walk.
    So again there is a conflict between the human desire for entertainment and novelty, the potential for profiting from this desire, ecological services to the city and the needs of nature – particularly the forest inhabitants.


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