Tree-top observation platform
What can a financially underachieving country estate gain from building an observation tower and a connecting tunnel under the road that splits the park in two? Will it attract the desired 50,000 visitors per year with the associated income, and will this extra income be absorbed by serving these visitors?
The Schovenhorst Estate came into existence in 1848 following the acquisition of wasteland by the industrialist Schober. With a view to forest building, rather than one of protecting nature, he collected conifer seeds worldwide for horticultural experimentation; his idea being that faster-growing coniferous trees could provide a solution to the increasing demand for wood production. The estate incorporates a small and a large pinetum containing the tallest sequoias in the Netherlands, approximately 43m high. Whereas the American sequoia can reach a height of up to 110m, this is the maximum height that can be achieved in the Dutch sand land with its relatively dry conditions.
The current management originally proposed a raised walkway at tree-top level but soon realised that this would be unattainable with the available budget. Consequently, the concept of a forest tower was mooted. This was envisioned as a condensed route with all the facets of a forest walk, rather than a simple vertical climb. The ‘branches’ of the tower provide opportunities for different activities and perspective views along the vertical route. On occasion, only the sky, the branches, the ground or a panorama can be seen. At a height of 30m, visitors can enter a net climbing tunnel or a sloping play area. The route is terminated not by the expected panorama platform but, rather, a new part of the forest. From this position further experimentation on conifer growth at elevated heights can take place. With the underground connection we wished to avoid creating a simple tunnel. The embankments on either side of the pathway become higher and steeper and they ‘fold in’ in towards each other when passing underneath the road. Rather than joining completely, they stop 4cm short allowing a narrow sliver of light to penetrate the near darkness. One is, thus, never completely underground and remains conscious of the road crossing above.