Better Place Forests

Point Arena, United States

Located on the crest of a wooded rise, framing a view towards the meadow below, the visitor center for Better Place Forests in Point Arena, California marks the threshold of the visitors’ journey into the forest’s memorial groves.

Visitor center ©2019 Hewitt Photography
Visitor center ©2019 Hewitt Photography

Better Places Forests offers a sustainable alternative to cemeteries. Within these protected forests, families choose trees to mark the place where they’ll spread their loved ones’ ashes over generations. The concept has simple poetry—merging ritual, memorial, and forest conservation—yet its realization involved a large team of design and technical specialists, led by Fletcher Studio, landscape architects. Located on a 40-acre stretch of the Mendocino Coast, Better Place Forests’ Point Arena location establishes a framework for future sites, each with its own unique qualities. 

The design of the experience centers to a greater extent around the surrounding land than its constructed elements. The site and architecture gently frame a sequence of events—arrival, orientation, memory, threshold, and release. An entry road descends into the site and arrives at the visitor center. Sited at the crest of a hill, this singular building is a place of orientation on the threshold between public and private.

Entry road ©2019 Hewitt Photography
Entry road ©2019 Hewitt Photography

The visitor center—the only building on the 20-acre site—contains two small meeting rooms, a restroom, and a staff room. The covered deck provides opportunities for small groups to gather for informal ceremonies while the overlook offers visitors a panoramic view of the forest and the meadow beyond.

Visitor center ©2019 Hewitt Photography
Visitor center ©2019 Hewitt Photography
Visitor center ©2019 Hewitt Photography
Visitor center ©2019 Hewitt Photography

The goal of the design is to create a definitive threshold—to make explicit the transition, literal and figurative, at the edge of the forest. The building is set above the hillside on piers, and the pathway that divides the structure brings the visitor from the ground directly up into the tree canopy. The folded roof pulls past the floor plate, providing deep overhangs to shade and protect the deck while the redwood fins provide privacy in the meeting rooms.

Within the ever-changing forest, the materiality of the visitors center conveys a reassuring sense of permanence — that it always has and always will sit on this site. The decking, exterior siding, and ceiling at the ‘interior’ surfaces are redwood that was harvested, dried, and milled locally. A deep, folded Corten steel roof shades and protects the building. The Corten will weather naturally, along with the locally harvested and milled redwood decking and siding. Carefully oriented redwood fins screen the glass-enclosed meeting rooms while capturing views outward.

Redwood ©2019 Hewitt Photography
Redwood ©2019 Hewitt Photography

A pathway of concrete pavers leads to and through the visitors center, culminating at a covered deck overlooking a meadow and the forest beyond. This portal frames nature, literally; as one approaches the forest comes into view. Nested into the meadow is a memorial created by design studio Matsys, a series of cast-concrete benches, inscribed with the names of family members and placed to recall the rings of a tree.

A series of cast-concrete benches ©2019 Hewitt Photography
A series of cast-concrete benches ©2019 Hewitt Photography
A series of cast-concrete benches ©2019 Hewitt Photography
A series of cast-concrete benches ©2019 Hewitt Photography
A series of cast-concrete benches ©2019 Hewitt Photography
A series of cast-concrete benches ©2019 Hewitt Photography

Moving through the threshold, visitors enter the memorial forests. The old ‘skid’ roads, originally established for logging, define the main routes through the forest, while tributary trails branch off into more secluded spaces. This network of trails and openings flows with the land, guided by the knowledge of conservators and local trail builders, and eventually rises to a knoll with views to the sea and horizon.

Every detail from the landscape and architecture to the signage and memorial markers works to establish a quiet and reverent human presence. While each Better Place Forest will have a unique character, the underpinning vision will remain: to honor the transcendent beauty of the landscape and ultimately the people who choose this forest as their final resting place.

Entry road ©2019 Hewitt Photography
Entry road ©2019 Hewitt Photography

Project drawings

Site plan ©2019 Fletcher Studio
Site plan ©2019 Fletcher Studio
Plan ©2019 OpenScope Studio
Plan ©2019 OpenScope Studio
Section ©2019 OpenScope Studio
Section ©2019 OpenScope Studio
Elevation ©2019 OpenScope Studio
Elevation ©2019 OpenScope Studio
Elevation ©2019 OpenScope Studio
Elevation ©2019 OpenScope Studio

Project information

DesignOpenScope Studio
Landscape ArchitectFletcher Studio
Memorial DesignMatsys
Structural EngineerDolmen
Completed2019

Editing: chuichui ©️FULLDES authorized publishing, copyright from the Author, Image copyright from the photographer or Company

Leave a comment