The joy of a suspended path to nowhere, magically gliding through the trees of an ancient forest
In Tallinn for a conference a few months ago, I took a chance to go for a long walk from the old medieval centre to an ancient forest to the east of the city. (Ed. This piece was first published at cityofsound.com on 8 January 2012.)
It was a meandering route to Kadriorg Forest, along the oversized roads separating undistinguished housing blocks that are both typical stains left by Soviet-era planning, the roads wide enough for tanks, and possibly even aircraft, and of little use to the contemporary city.
There are, however, several distinguished features along the route, such as the appealing wall-bound statues that fuse bust and typography, a vaguely Metabolist housing block opposite a thrusting modernist chapel, a great deli and coffee shop, and some lovely old wooden houses and masonry blocks, half of which are disintegrating, half are being renovated or rebuilt, near the stadium as you approach the park.
Beyond the ponds, playgrounds and formal landscaping around the palace at the edge of Kadriorg park, the forest itself is immediately quietly extraordinary. It’s been there for centuries, and there’s something graceful and majestic about the scale of the trees, particularly with autumn ablaze in the leaves, viewed from the long avenues cut through the woods.
Those were elements of the journey, but the destination was the KUMU Art Museum of Estonia and an installation in the trees. KUMU, designed by Finnish architect Pekka Vapaavuori, was excellent.
But the installation was magical.
Designed by Tetsuo Kondo Architects, ‘A Path in the Forest’ was a floating ramp hoisted up into the forest, a 95 metre long white steel walkway suspended from the trees themselves. Rather than sitting on columns, it was simply supported by brackets attached to tree trunks.
(In that simple strapped fixture, it reminded me a little of Australian architect Andrew Maynard’s proposal for protest structure treehouses, which I suggested co-opting for Battersea Power Station when pondering the Design Museum, five years ago.)
Given the ramp’s slender profile and lack of columns, it’s barely visible until close up. There were only a few signs, with a smart silhouette identity, to announce its presence. I was lucky to catch it in autumn. I’m not sure how long it’s around for. (Ed. The installation ran from 12 June to 22 October 2011.)
I’d heard about it via a Domus article, where Tetsuo Kondo writes:
“In the elegant woods of Kadriorg, we added a path. The path is supported by the trees as it floats through a forest that is over 300 years old. I feel that the appearance of the woods changes slightly when you walk along this path. We are no longer looking up at the trees from the ground but we come closer to the leaves and glide through the branches.”
Of course, the batteries on the Olympus ran out just as I approached, so all these shots, and the video, are from an old iPhone. Apologies.
You do glide through the branches, as the designer suggests, and the structure is surprisingly firm, given that it’s slender and light. The white steel had become a little muddy, as you’d expect, but not problematically so. A half-decent rain shower would fix that. The ramp twists its way through the trees, and bends round on itself several times, as this lovely diagram from the Kondo website indicates.
It ascends high enough above the ground to feel like you’re part of the forest’s canopy, rather than simply walking through it. Memories of climbing trees as a kid come flooding back, of the sudden shift in perspective afforded by sitting on a gnarly branch, high off the ground. The video above closes with a walk along the entire structure.
I’ve been a little mean about installations and one-offs recently, seeing as they generally do little to change the city in meaningful terms. But it was a pleasure to be reminded of the joy in the temporary and the transient, of the frivolous idea of a path to nowhere that almost wafts you up into the trees, of a playful intervention that opens up a new aspect on a familiar experience, at least for a moment, of climbing trees like a kid.
And it’s such as simple design that it could be replicated in any reasonably sized copse of trees elsewhere, lending a thought of replicability that extends the idea a little beyond the ‘mere installation’.
The forest itself remains the most extraordinary thing around here, and always will, but Kondo’s suspended ramp actually helped underline that fact, by lifting me further into the trees.
Ed. This piece was first published at cityofsound.com on 8 January 2012. You can find more of my photos of Tetsuo Kondo’s Suspended Ramp at Flickr.
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