Better Place Forests is creating the first sustainable alternative to cemeteries by turning some of the most beautiful places in America into protected spreading forests. Instead of a tombstone, ashes are incorporated into the soil around a tree.
Fletcher Studio is the prime consultant that is presently planning and designing all of the spreading forest locations in California. Our plan defines a threshold between the more public areas and the memorial forests. Our most visible work—the visitors center, memorial, vista point and parking—are found within the public area. Within the forests we worked with conservators and trail builders to create the network of trails and openings. It was all done with a lot of intention and thoughtfulness, but within the forests, we were really guided by the nature of the landscape.
This comprehensive project re-imagines the end-of-life experience and we had the amazing opportunity to help them imagine what that meant from a design perspective. The concept has a simple poetry—merging ritual, memorial and forest conservation—yet its realization involved a team of design and technical specialists, many from the local community.
Visitors arrive and park at one of two locations. The Visitor Center was designed in collaboration by Fletcher Studio and Open Scope Studio. It contains a conference room, work room, a bathroom and storage. A bridge leads you into a common central deck that extends to become an overlook. This angle cuts at a diagonal through the central void, that is centered on axis with the Founders Memorial. It also offers views of the sea beyond.
A map to the property is located near the Visitors Center. This provides orientation to the main trail system, as well as, historical and ecological information. Paper maps and digital GIS interactive maps are also available for use.
The site has many thesholds that one moves through in groups or individually. One is the entry from the main road into the forest. One is moving from the clearing and core area, into the sacred forest. One is the reimergance from the forest back into the clearing, and seeing the sea and infinity beyond. We see these as moments of psychological compression and release, a significant part of the emotional experience that one encounters on the site.
Every detail from the landscape and architecture to the signage and memorial markers work to establish a quiet and reverent human presence. It was our core question as designers: How does our work honor the transcendent beauty of the coastal landscape and ultimately the people who choosing this forest as their final resting place.
Emotional departure from the present, to memory and the past
The Founders Memorial is a collective gathering and commemoration site located in a clearing adjacent to the main redwood grove. The concentric rings of concrete benches, pavers, and vegetation reference the patterns of growth found within tree rings and connect visitors to larger cycles of life and death. The tops of each bench are clad in stone tiles with the names of the memorial donors. This space and its components were designed by Andrew Kudless of matsyssys.
Gather is a the final moment of the procession through the thresholds of the forest. It is a raw steel vine trellis, located at the top of a knoll overlooking the sea. Narrow at its center, it can only be entered individually. It then opens up to a space that allows groups to gather. This is intended to help to transition one from a space of individual memory into a collective, overlooking the infinite beyond.
About Fletcher Studio
We are a landscape architecture and urban design collaborative, based in San Francisco…
We believe design matters, and that people deserve to find value, meaning, and possibility in the places they encounter and occupy. We work with city makers, communities and other visionaries to realize evocative and appropriate concepts, designed and constructed to ensure social vitality and integrity.
We leverage technology to work faster and smarter; people, ideas and culture are the drivers of our process. From biologists and foresters to musicians and neighbors, we collaborate with a host of partners to skillfully integrate sustainable infrastructure and meaningful experiences into enduring, evolving spaces.
Our studio and collaborators bring a wide array of experience ranging across science, design, art, horticulture, construction, and politics. Collectively, we are able to distill complex spatial analysis into high-functioning built environments that connect communities to places through inclusion, delight, and recognition of their capacity to best steward the places and objects we design.