Text description provided by the architects. Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens is the latest nature-play project designed by Philadelphia-based Metcalfe. Located in Midland, Michigan, the installation opened in October 2018 as an experience-oriented complement to the Dow Gardens complex, the landmark public gardens established in 1899 by Herbert H. Dow.
Comprising a dynamic network of bridges, paths, and tree canopy walkways that are populated with engaging gathering points and interactive features, Metcalfe’s design offers a close-up, four-season experience of the 54-acre forest of native northern pine from a variety of unexpected vantage points. On the journey through the woods, visitors encounter a series of “right-brained” experiences involving a progression of open fields and dark forests. People are not constrained to staying on trails; the more they wander, the closer they get to nature and opportunities for introspection.
The 1,400-foot-long tree canopy walk—the longest in the country—is the central attraction of the forest. With three “arms” winding over a pond and apple orchards and through the forest, the canopy walk provides a one-of-a-kind vantage point from 40 feet above the ground as it draws visitors through the woodland. Along the walk, expansive cargo nets stretched between trees create places for visitors to walk, jump and sprawl safely while over the forest floor, while walk-in slatted-wood pavilions in abstracted forms of nests and pods offer shelter and act as settings for reflection, discussion, and observation.
Other features on the site include a new 13,600-square-foot playground with a sandy beach, flowing water, and child-scaled play structures; Visitor Center, a restored and repurposed midcentury residence by architect Alden B. Dow; Whiting Forest Café; amphitheater; and Forest Classroom, a facility for hosting workshops, seminars, programs and 2 steel bridges.
This active, participatory environment is an architectural antidote to the over-reliance on virtual, screen-centric life that people today typically experience. In a world of technology that sometimes makes people more divided, Metcalfe works to design places that bring communities together outdoors and in nature for purposeful interaction. Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens is a prime example of that philosophy.
Location：Midland, Míchigan, United States
Lead Architects：Alan Metcalfe, Christopher Kircher, Katy Johnson, David Williams, Caitlin Brady
Manufacturers：Ohio Gratings, Ipe