The objective of this project was to enable people to move into the rainforest and have an experience of it – with as little impact as possible. To keep the footprint as light as humanly possible. It is also a way to increase the value of standing forest, by making it accessible to people. We enable people to access to the rainforest canopy. To celebrate the beauty and magic that is there in a mature forest.
Architecturally, the theme is unity or one-ness. I feel a kinship with a lot of the pagan traditions that have preceded us. I’m sure this has influenced my interpretation of the inspiration I received. Their rituals are carried out inside a sacred circle. During ritual it is normal to imagine being inside a sphere of altered space when you are within the circle. There, one realizes his connectedness to all things and the circle with no beginning and no end mirrors that thought. It also creates an atmosphere and feeling of “oneness”. Within a sphere there is no separation of walls, floor and ceiling. It’s all one.
The concept employs the principles of bio-mimicry. Suspended spheres use the trees around them for a foundation, thus eliminating the footprint on the ground. The web of rope that connects them to the forest mirrors our connectedness to the eco system we live in. The web of rope, with many soft attachments to the trees, also secures the spheres aloft. Many attachments reduces the risk of a fall. Each sphere is tethered to at least 3 trees. Then like a spider we extend the web of rope out into the forest to stabilize the support trees and the surrounding forest.
The suspension ropes are all stretchy and the main support comes from near vertical attachments to the trees. This gives a feeling of floating when inside the sphere. It also keeps the load “in column”, down the trunks of the trees, enabling them to move unrestricted. Near vertical tethers keep the sphere relatively steady when the wind blows, and the treetops move a lot. The sphere movement is a muted average of the treetop movement.
Access is provided via a spiral staircase and short suspension bridge that leads out to the sphere. The stairway is a double helix, which is also suspended from the tree. Nothing penetrates the trees anywhere. Everything attaches by brackets and lines that are blocked out from the trees, to prevent girdling. A sphere can be placed in a forest setting in 3 or 4 days and completely removed in 1. A crew of 3 people is normally used to position and rig a sphere.
Construction employs a lot of boat building techniques. Humans have been capable of building complex shapes for centuries. It’s just now getting easy enough to do, so that our architecture can better reflect our capabilities.
We’ve found over the years that a suspended sphere is a very healing place. For many reasons it seems to help people heal from or at least come to terms with their medical problems or dis-eases. We’ve been asked hundreds of times why that is and have always struggled to explain it. I believe that it has something to do with changing your mind or at least changing your perception. By immersing yourself in a suspended sphere you have already changed your mind about so many things it seems easier to carry on changing it about how you see other things as well. Normal people don’t ever set foot in a true sphere. Likewise the forest canopy is someplace that people seldom go after they grow up. Most architecture is also rigid while a suspended sphere is architecture that embraces movement. Somehow it all works together to help people change their minds and perceptions.
We have been manufacturing wood and fiberglass spheres for 17 years now. The wooden ones look very organic but consume many man hours in the construction. Fibreglass shells are easier to produce and can be painted to fit harmoniously into a forest environment.
Future plans are to build 20 spheres and hang them all in a mature forest setting. There we will build a retreat centre. A place where people can come to commune with nature. I’ll leave empty coat hangers at the base of the stairway where people can leave their worries and woes before they come up. Then sprinkle the woods with little totems and art that will remind us of our connectedness to Spirit and the Earth.