Better Place Forests – Point Arena

The submitting landscape architecture studio was selected to design America’s first forest spreading cemetery. The Client has created an alternative to the cemetery, a conservation system of tree sponsorship that preserves, restores, and manages large areas as memorial spreading grounds. The studio acted as the prime consultant and assembled a team of forest ecologists, artists, designers, and other consultants to realize the first project in Northern California. Their work included master-planning the property, designing structures, spaces, trail systems, wayfinding and signage, and habitat restoration.

Within these protected forests, families choose trees to mark the place where they’ll spread their loved ones’ ashes over generations. The concept has a simple poetry — merging ritual, memorial, and forest conservation — yet its realization involved a large team of design and technical specialists, led by the submitting landscape architecture firm. Located on a 40-acre stretch of the Mendocino Coast, the project establishes a framework for future sites, each with their own unique qualities.

Designing an experience that’s more about the land than its constructed elements requires a certain discipline. The plan and architecture gently frame a sequence of events: arrival, orientation, memory, threshold, and release. An entry road descends into the site and arrives at a visitors center, designed in collaboration with and architecture firm. Sited at the crest of a hill, this singular building is a place of orientation on the threshold between public and private.

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. The deck and two small meeting rooms provide space for families to gather for ceremonies or to meet with forest stewards. Nested into the meadow is a memorial created by another design studio, a series of cast-concrete benches, inscribed with the names of family members and placed to recall the rings of a tree.

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. 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.

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 work to establish a quiet and reverent human presence. While each forest cemetery implemented by the Client will have a unique character, the underpinning vision will remain: to preserve and honor the transcendent beauty of the landscape and ultimately the people who choose this forest as their final resting place.


Visitor Center designed by Fletcher Studio and OpenScope Studio (Mark Hogan, Ian Dunn) with Min Design {E.B. Min).

Founders Memorial Design by Matsys (Andrew Kudless)

Project location: 25284 Tenmile Rd, Point Arena, California 95468

Design year: 2016-2020

Year Built: 2020


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