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The living forest: forestry and forest design are traditionally the responsibility of the forester, but since forest and wooded landscapes are ideal recreation areas and the importance of forests to the environment is increasingly understood, their continuing existence is everyone's responsibility.


Recreation and nature conservation play as much of a major role in the forestry industry, as the production of timber, especially in the western part of the world. Forests which exist in other parts of the world have not been taken into account in this article.

The broadening of the benefits of forests makes it logical that other disciplines will be involved in planning and design. The landscape architect plays an important role, because he is familiar with both space and time. He is not a nature conservationist or recreation sociologist, but he understands the language they speak.

According to the famous landscape architect Sven-Ingvar Andersson, the role of the landscape architect in forest design lays in organising and providing biological and spatial experiences.

Spatial experiences are processed by the senses--the sight, the smells, the sound and climate are among our spatial experiences. As regards biological experiences, architects must work with the biologist and the dendrologist and in cooperation with them, we can provide a rich experience of nature, where birds, plants and other organisms are flourishing together.

In a study commissioned by the Dutch State Forest Service, three teams, comprising a landscape architect and a forester were commissioned to design, independently of each other, a forest comprising 100ha. The project was called 'The Living Forest', which indicated that the design in the first place should emphasise plantation and not only be concerned with issues such as road systems and recreational facilities.

The forester Ellen Meuleman ten Broeke and myself chose to establish a link between forest types and spatial experience.

A forest can be described in many different ways: as a light or dark wood, varied in composition or only consisting of one species. It may be an old forest or even a very young forest and the planting distance could vary considerably. Maintenance can be intense--one might decide to clear a section of the forest in order to rejuvenate it or make use of a screen or 'plenter' method.

Furthermore the rhythm of the seasons greatly influences how the forest is seen at various times throughout the year.

There are many factors that play a role in the morphology of a forest, but briefly summarised and focusing on the visual aspects, we are dealing with three factors: light, transparency and variation in colour or texture.

The level of light infiltration

A forest with shade species gives a dark forest image with light spots here and there. A forest with light trees gives a forest image with a more uniform light.

The level of transparency

Mature forests with a closed canopy will give little undergrowth, for example a beech wood. A forest with a more open canopy will allow the development of undergrowth with the effect that the forest on eye level will be dense and not transparent.

This effect will also appear in young forests and coppice plantations.

The level of variation in colour/texture

Young forests and forests focused on the production of timber are often simple in composition and miss a large variation in branch texture and colour. Mature, mixed forests have much variation in branch texture and colour.

Five parameters form the basis of the forest types (see scheme)

Now we have the means to design a forest by organising certain experiences in the wood. Here are a few examples.

* It is logical to locate the largest variation of trees where visitors are expected to walk. For example, along the (foot)paths and around nearby recreation areas.

* By situating transparent forest sections along the paths, it will be possible while walking on the paths to look deeper into the forest and see more.

* Sections of light trees at the edges of the complex means that the sunlight will penetrate deeper into the forest.

It is clear that design is very subjective and a deeply personal matter. But the psychology we employed and the tools used in finalising the design, make it possible to explain how we came to particular conclusions. Using tools such as light and dark, less or more variation and dense and open woods, we begin to tackle the assignment of the State Forest Service. The task turned out to be most fascinating!

The rules

* The main design tool for the design should be the vegetation.

* The forest should be multifunctional, incorporating nature, forestry and recreational interests.

* During the first generation, 50% fast growing willow/poplar should be incorporated in order to obtain a quick yield.

* A maximum of 15% open space only was permitted, because open space costs money!

* The existing landscape pattern will be the basis of the design.




Three phases of a forest

1. The situation at the start.

2. The first generation of the forest; after 30/40 years.

3. The situation wished for

A forest design

The site which was chosen by the State Forest Service was located close up at Hoofddorp, a fast growing new town not far from Schiphol airport.

The landscape here is typical for a reclaimed area; the Haarlemmermeerpolder, originally a big lake, came into being in the 1850s. The fertile sea clay was parcelled out in rectangular plots and there was very little space left for any landscaping at all. The need for arable land was huge.

The forest site is rectangular, measures 120m x95m and is divided by ditches in six smaller plots. The north west border is defined by one of the big canals running through the polder, which ensures that the water level, some metres below sea level, will be maintained. At the north east and south east side, a new housing area is situated together with sports grounds and a small recreation lake. The main entrance to the forest was planned on this site. A cycle track was foreseen along the canal.

Location of the study area near the new town of Hoofddorp

How to make an interesting forest in an area lacking any specific features? The brief was clear about the form of the site. This was our starting point for the design.



We decided to start with the premise that in the first generation of the forest, 50% should be pioneer wood, like willow and poplar. We divided the area in two, one half fast growing and one half hardwood trees. The result was rather dull (figure 1). It lacked variation. Designing the 'right level of variation is crucial in any architectural design. In the case of our forest we presumed that the same forest image should not be longer than about 300m, a distance that a stroller can walk in 4.2 minutes, at a pace of five km/hour, which is quite normal. (We are not pretending; this is a scientific based fact!)

Adapting this factor, we arrived at a design including four areas of hardwood, with borders measuring 350m. This looked much better (2). The next step was to secure more (sun)light into the forest. Therefore strips of light wood were situated at the west and south side of the forest. This has, at the same time, the advantage that pioneer trees like poplar can stand the west wind better than many others (3).

We now planned the footpaths and cycle track; the latter was to be a shortcut between the main entrance at the south east side and the cycle track running along the canal at the north west border, in the direction of Amsterdam and Haarlem. The other main connection for cyclists and pedestrians would be in the middle of the area, from southwest to northeast, where the sports grounds are situated. A secondary path was planned more or less in the centre of the four hardwood areas. The whole forest was visitor friendly now and, of equal importance, the paths could be used to transport timber (4).

The laying out of the path system helped us to decide where to design the transparent wood parts and those with more variation, namely along the paths and areas where we could expect most people (5, 6).

Did we now have a forest design?

No, we were not satisfied with the potential level of visitor experiences. The forest was too rigid, too predictable. We had to refine the layout.

In order to emphasise the area near the main entrance, where the diagonal line of the cycle track and footpath formed a trapezium shaped section, linden were to be planted as the main species of hardwood. Linden is a beautiful tree and points figuratively towards human settlements, more than other trees establishing a connection to the town.

To balance the linden wood, the southwest corner of the forest, which is comparatively not so easy to enter, the vegetation would be 'neglected' and a more wild and natural environment allowed to develop.

The light tree forest surrounding the complex will consist mainly of different clones of poplar, but the sections at the northeast side will be planted with silver leaved willow, in relation to the artificial recreation lake nearby.

The sea clay we are dealing with encourages the healthy growth of the main species, such as oak, beech and ash. The northwestern half of the area is a bit more wet than the other half, so we have a mixed forest, with ash as the main species. The mixed forest with ash and oak helps make the transition to the sections with oak and beech. Along the main paths there is no undergrowth of shrubs, in order to give the visitor the maximum possibility to see deep into the forest. Also the mix of trees here is more expressed.

Finally, a double row of Lombardy poplar is to be planted along the canal, which will be widened to 50m (the length of the forest) as a more attractive feature for cyclists.

So we arrived at last at the complete design. We have respected the underlying landscape pattern--we have 50% pioneer trees planted, there are no more open spaces than already exist and we have used different vegetation types as the main tool for the design.

The visual experiences we are dealing with, can of course be organised in a variety of ways, but what is important is, that by designing a new forest, attention is given to the spatial/visual aspects expressed in vistas, contrasts, meaning, and other non-functional manners.








By Lodewijk Wiegersma, landscape architect

Lodewijk Wiegersma trained at the School of Architecture of the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen. Thereafter he got his practical experience at the State Forest Service and other landscape offices in Denmark and Holland. In the late 1970s, he was appointed as part time tutor at the Agricultural University in Wageningen, and opened his own practice in Utrecht. He specialises in the renovation of town parks and forest design and also writes about and researches landscape architecture and its history.
Five parameters forming the basis of the forest type we are dealing

Parameter Description Effects on

Species Light forest Infiltration of light
 High forest Variation in colour/texture

Mixture Of species Variation in colour/texture
 Of trees and shrubs Transparency
 Of age range

Age 1 Year Transparency
 10 years infiltration of light
 30 years plus

Plant distance Small: 0.8-1m infiltration of light
 Middle: 1.25-1.5m Transparency
 Large: <500 ex/ha Variation in texture

Management High thinning Variation in texture
 Low thinning infiltration of light
 Coppice Transparency
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Title Annotation:FOREST DESIGN
Author:Wiegersma, Lodewijk
Publication:Green Places
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 1, 2008
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