Wildwood Plaza, Uster, Switzerland

The City of Uster is surrounded by three distinct landscape typologies, each with its own strong atmosphere and materiality: woodlands, glacial drumlins and lake marshes. For a new path planned by the government encircling the city we were asked to make subtile interventions which provide a landscape experience to the users. Our design proposal uses the typology of a circular void as a kind of cyclorama or looking glass from which to simultaneously immerse oneself in the specific landscape character, watch the landscape change and grow and use it for more concrete recreational uses such as relaxing, gathering, grilling, etc. The first phase is comprised of three woodland “plazas”.

Today’s urban dwellers search for increasingly powerful experiences of “landscape” and “nature” in shrinking territories just minutes from their homes – on the suburban edges of town. It has become the task of the landscape architect to look for new languages which give us territorial access to the sensations of raw or wild landscapes within walking distance from home while providing us with functional space for recreational uses. As urban dwellers we tend to have an undifferentiated view of «woods» as all looking quite similar – a place of many trees. This project invites a very sensitive and differentiated view of three so distinct existing woodlands, which each have become an expression over time of their own climatic and topographic history, just 100m apart from each other.
Thus a genre of “soft tourism” rethinks recreational space.

On our tiny woodland hill, three vividly contrasting woodland images lie just a few hundred meters apart. Walking slowly, strikingly different experiences of “being in the woods” display nature as a machine of response. The woods turn, twist, grow and shrink, becoming an expression of their ephemeral conditions. The first circle lies beneath grand silver trunks and high crowns of the climax beech trees, Baudelaire‘s ‘temple of living pillars’, having survived hurricanes on the protected slope of the hill. The second circle, “emptiness in progress”, is enclosed by dense pioneer growth where hurricanes rased the exposed eastern slope. Select exotic trees have been left within the void. The third circle expresses the bizarre beauty of nature‘s deformation and adaption. Many storms have left an apocalyptic scene behind. Hazelnut trees, with their shallow root balls, torn out of the ground, lie like fallen giant brooms. Rhizomes shooting in all directions. Ancient, enormous root balls create a strangest topography.

These public recreational spaces have received acclaim.
The simple, inexpensive use of materials from the surrounding context creates a site specific character. The local people feel that “their” woodlands have not been given up to the public. The spaces retain an intimate, poetic and magical sense of being alone in the woods while offering places for gathering and seating – hence the name “wildwood plaza”. A nearby boy scout club uses the space for their festivities and gatherings. The path, famed for dog walkers, offers a place of rest along the way. Apart from the functional success, the project serves to offer a new potential of access to natural recreational spaces in the agglomeration.

Writer John Fowles describes the “uncapturability” of the woods. “(They) defeat view-finder, drawing paper, canvas, cannot be framed…words as futile, hopelessly too laborious…trees warp or create a variety of times: here dense and abrupt, there calm and sinuous.” Our projects explore place as catalyst of imagination, a dialogue between place and people. There is a long tradition in landscape architecture of creating spaces for us to lose ourselves in. This project explores this tradition.

Location: Hegetsbergstrasse, Forhölzliwald Uster, Switzerland
Project: 2012, Realisation: 2013-14
Size: Forest 10’000 m2. Voids 80–150 m2,
Client: Stadt Uster
Landscape Architect: Robin Winogrond Landscape Architects (since 2014 Studio Vulkan Landschaftsarchitektur)
Photography: Studio Vulkan


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