The Theater Group Retreat project began in 1993 after a prominent New York City experimental theater company purchased a lakeside parcel in western Maine. The parcel included approximately 10-acres of a central clearing flanked by fifteen rental cottages, which became the focus of our work. The site had been suffering from extensive clearing and over-use, which resulted in significant erosion negatively impacting the lake below, deforestation, soil compaction, and shrinking habitat. Landworks Studio was hired to help restore the ecological and cultural integrity of the grounds, though ultimately, the project evolved into so much more. The Theater Group Retreat is the culmination of a series of extensive on-site experimentation and interventions that are as much about ecological processes as they are joyful expressions of human dynamics. These lessons learned over the past several years have been invaluable to those involved and the community who have worked diligently preserve this specular resource.

Rewilding the 10 acre opening in a Maine forest is based upon a notion of tactical succession where a variety of forest types are strategically inserted into the active process of succession and allowed to, over time, engage with the advancing parent forest in ways meant to optimize biodiversity and to encourage unique micro-climates into which subsequent interventions are then made, expanding further habitat for fauna, fowl, and human occupation. The project is the culmination of a series of extensive on-site experimentations and interventions pertaining to the protection of the lake and establishing a healthier ecosystem.

It was after 8 -10 years of the original planting and earthwork efforts that palpable and under-anticipated, symbiotic relationships between the components of the proposed design and the material of the existing site began to emerge. These interactions challenged the perceived image or the question of ‘fixity’ within the original design intention and served to lead the project in a more dynamic, active, and resilient direction than imagined at the start of the Framework planning exercises established years before. These observations informed subsequent interventions on the site.

Over the years, new micro-climates emerged, revealing robust scenarios comprised of complex interrelationships between parent plant communities and plant materials brought to the site. These new landscape discoveries established a landscape canvas for the residents, client, and team to tinker with and maintain. Each year presents new opportunities to manipulate nature in small ways, always with the utmost respect for the surrounding forest, the impacts of seasonal changes and successional realities.

Strategic Absorption/Hillside Re-wilding
The primary objective of the framework plan is the planned absorption of the plan itself into a larger story of succession resulting in the creation of expanded habitat territory and micro-climatic scenarios into which further tweaking is performed over time. The experience of the landscape and focus of ongoing design initiatives evolves as the site continues to evolve and as new conditions emerge. There has become a dynamic blurring between the series of interventions and the dynamics of the parent community resulting in new opportunities to interpret, wander, and tweak.

The concept for the design of the graft is predicated upon the gradual release of a designed (formal) landscape into more of a timed released renovation: that one day, the project itself, as understood in drawing form, will have almost completely vanished. The reading of the landscape is a constant play between those elements which grow and those more culturally recognizable materials and organizational strategies (grid vs random, for example). In this way both the path registers movement of the forests edge over time. In each case, the observations require a response in terms of human patterns of use and movement and a tauter relationship with ensuing habitat and habitat protection.

Location: Maine, USA

Design year: 1993

Year Completed: Ongoing


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