Architecture of the Forest


A journey from a site survey in the southern boreal forest of Sweden to an urban housing strategy aimed for dense cities where greenery is sparse. Spatial qualities are measured and analysed to drive a design that inhabits the same qualities as the forest. Primarly the design is to hold spatial and aesthetic qualities of the forest, giving a sense of being in the forest to urban dwellers. But as a bi-effect it could possibly affect humans psychosocially. Living close to forest areas have proven to effect stress levels, children’s cognitive development and expected life length.


What was you method and approach to the receding an analysis of the site?

Concerning the survey site, I choose a site that could work as a average for the Swedish forest. Then i brought my family, (and a dog) and together we measured and registered heights of trees, crown dimensions, trunk sizes etc as long as we could bare the cold of the Swedish winter. I also used an app to geo-locate every tree so that I later could use that information in i GIS-software.

Then I went home, digitalized the information and created plans and sections from it. These plans and sections was then used as a basis for developing diagrams that made me understand (and helped me communicate) the spaces, dimensions and qualities of the forest.

What was your work process sin terms of project development?

The project started with an overall research of the  forest. What types of forest is there, in what specific areas, and how is it layered. Then, a site survey is carried out in the forest outside Borås. A site of 715m2 with 27 trees. From that I developed that drawings that then was used as a basis for diagrams.Then i started searching for a location to realize the project. To decide I studied green area in larger cities to find a city with low green area per capita. 30 small, left-over sites, “urban slots” are defined for the project to be realized in. One of them is chosen to use for developing the design.

Then, data and knowledge from previous steps are used to drive the design. First, I used the same density of tree/m2 as the original survey site. Every tree was represented by one point at the ground and then 5 points stretching between the bottom and the top of the crown. From each point I drove a volume with a radius corresponding to the radius of the tree crown. When the volumes meet, they blend together into something bigger, just as when the tree crowns blends together into a forest ceiling. Depending on the strength of the blending we can end up with a result that’s very sparse or very dense. I needed something large enough for housing and sparse enough to recreate light qualities and voids from forest.

The same process was then used to create an inner layer. An abstraction of the solitary, vertical elements that trees are, this layer doesn’t blend as much as the outer layer. This became the actual housing volumes. Maximum 3 vertical volumes blend together to create reasonably large residences.Together with the exterior volume it creates the entire picture of the forest as a two layered structure. The large, horizontal volume you experience from a far. And the solitary, vertical objects you experience up close.

Between the forest envelope and the inner housing volumes the construction was created out of 6x6x700mm wooden sticks. Just as many leaves creates a crown or many trees creates a forest, I wanted the project to play on that effect of many things gathering into a whole.

Equally, towards the outer borders, the project could achieve a dematerializing effect similar to what you see looking at the borders of a tree crown. Many small parts will also filter the light similar to how it would look in the forest. The final result is a rectangular grid, following the volume and fading towards edges. Creating something soft and very alive.

What defined the choice of Milan as site?

When choosing a site for the project, it was important to consider the qualities that a piece of forest could give to an urban situation. Primarily the spatial and aesthetic qualities analysed in the site survey but possibly as a bi-effect,a psychosocial effect on people living close to the site.

The decision was therefore based on the green area per capita comparison. Milano – a city with extremely low green area would be the location for this project. Other cities for consideration were Düsseldorf, Valencia, Marseille. The same strategy and project could be implemented there with same effect. I defined a set of 30 “Urban Slots” where the design is to be implemented. Via Brisa is the site where the design was developed and presented.

What tools did you use to develop the project?

Excel – Gathering data from initial forest survey

QGIS – Converting geodata from Excel to Rhinoceros

Grasshopper – Developing overall shape and construction

Rhinoceros – Design, drawings, diagrams etc.

V-ray – Rendering

Photoshop – Composing renderings

Illustrator – Combining drawings with renderings.

How important were the plan and axo as mediums through which to articulate and explore the intervention?

With such a complex shape I needed to use axo, plans and sections simultaneously during the process. To develop the project, I generated a 3-dimensional envelope in Grasshopper and then cut slices of it and developed it in 2d. The axo (or any 3-dimensional view) was used sort of to keep track of that what I was doing in plan and section was working.

When communicating the project, the axo was used as a first introduction to the project to understand the overall shape and position at the site. Then plans gave a more detailed understanding of what was going on. It also communicated the inside whereas the axo showed the outer layer. The way that worked best for this project was probably the axo-section I used for communicating a residence more in detail.

What is your take on the hyper realistic render?

I believe its very useful when communicating your project in a later stage. Especially when communicating to a client not used to reading more abstract drawings or images.

In this project it was important for me to show a realistic representation of the project. Since the project was very much about translating and moving qualities from the forest to the city, I wanted to be true to the conditions that I had created so that the reader could examine if it was a success or not. Therefore realistic renders (or as realistic as I could) was a good way to evaluate the project. Another reason was that a realistic rendering could, very much like a photo communicate feeling in a way that an more abstract image sometimes can’t. It could communicate the smell of wood, or the feeling of gravel under your feet.

I was able to choose views that tried to communicate the project in quite realistic renders (as realistic that I was able to do) but still it didn’t force me to show details of the project that I didn’t yet know. That is otherwise a tricky thing about hyper realistic renders. It shows everything, which forces you to make decisions about everything when sometimes you might wanna keep things open and communicate the bigger picture. During my time as an intern at BIG we worked a lot in developing design through renders and looking at everything we saw in the image and defining that.

It takes away some of the fun and freedom you have when working with a more abstract images and puts the effort much more into modelling. What you get instead is a process that is more like the one of a photographer. Finding nice views, lightning etc.

What defined the portrayal of the project both at night and during the day?

It was an idea that came quite early in the process when I wrote a small text about the huge difference between how we perceive the forest during the day and the night. During the day we have amazing light and a soft, green space that humans flourish in. Whereas, during the night, we have a place that again and again are used as a scene for horror in movie, books and folk lore.

So in the day view, I wanted to mainly portray the play of light that we get in the forest and also in the project. And in the night view I wanted to portray how the “scary forest” could be lit up by the residence and instead of creating something scary, create something intimate and warm.

To what extent are you interested in exploring the potential relationship between nature and the city further?

art of the project was the idea of how the forest could effect humans phsysocially. After reading some theory on the effect of living close to the forest, I had the idea that if you implement this design in a number of sites you could give the effect of living close to the forest to an entire city.

Every site has a range of effect of 250m (or 3 min walking distance). This means that if the design is done in a sufficient amount of sites the entire city is able to benefit from it. The city is upgraded into a place where everybody comes in connection with green areas or building-forest hybrid areas.

In the end this became something that was very hard to argue if I had achieved it, because I didn’t really have a way of measuring it. But I still think it was a good idea for an overall strategy for the project. If I had the possibility to continue with the project, or a project that holds similar questions, then this is something I would like to focus on developing.

What is your take on buildings as the Bosco Verticale in Milan?

In terms of Bosco Verticale as a take on “natural architecture” or for that sake, architecture of the forest… I think it has gotten a bit too much attention. Because you could definitely argue that its just a regular high rise with large enough balconies that you can plant trees on it. And I believe there are so many architects that take the idea of living with nature much further, and in a more creative shape. Also, walking around Milano you see trees poking up on almost every rooftop so there’s already a culture of creating these qualities of green in the city.

On the other hand, having a balcony with entire trees on it is something truly amazing and I think the residents should be pretty lucky to live surrounded by greenery and an amazing view. And having a facade that changes following the season is perhaps unique. It is also amazing to see how such a small change on a conventional high rise can create something that looks quite green and gets attention all over the world. As a high rise, its magnificent. But as natural architecture, it could be more.

As a final note, when discussing projects like Bosco Verticale you have to compare it with other realized projects. There’s a huge difference between designing a project and realizing it and maybe this is the level of natural architecture that we can create at this moment in time.


Jonathanwas born in 1992 in Borås, Sweden. He studied design in high school before enrolling at the Architecture program at Chalmers University, Gothenburg. After finishing his bachelor studies he moved to Italy to study one year at the Politecnico di Milano. Jonathan then worked for BIG in Copenhagen for one year followed by an internship at Wingårdhs.  Currently he is working as an architect for Wingårdhs in Malmö. In his spare time he runs a small architecture & visualisation studio together with his partner Mathilda Florentine called IWIK.