Sustainable Alternative to Cemeteries: Better Place Forests

Sustainable Alternative to Cemeteries: Better Place Forests
Photo credit: Hewitt Photography

In Point Arena, California, the visitor center for Better Place Forests by OpenScope Studio and collaborators begins the visitor’s journey into the forest’s memorial groves.

North of San Francisco, there’s a sustainable alternative to cemeteries at Better Place Forests wherein families can choose trees to mark the place where they’ll spread their loved ones’ ashes for generations to come. Memorial trees, they’re called, have been available since the completion of the project in 2019.

The Better Place Forests project exemplifies how forest conservation can also serve the people by incorporating rituals and memorials.

Its realization involved a large team of design and technical specialists, led by Fletcher Studio, landscape architects. Located on a 40-acre stretch of the Mendocino Coast, the location of Better Place Forests establishes a framework for future sites.

An entry road descends into the forest and arrives at the visitor center which sits in the crest of a hill. The building is a place of orientation and is the only building on the 20-acre site. It has two small meeting rooms, a restroom, and a staff room. The covered deck provides opportunities for small groups to gather for informal ceremonies while the overlook offers visitors a panoramic view of the forest and the meadow beyond.

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The building is set above the hillside on piers, and the pathway that divides the structure brings the visitor from the ground directly up into the tree canopy. The folded roof pulls past the floor plate, providing deep overhangs to shade and protect the deck while the redwood fins provide privacy in the meeting rooms.

The decking, exterior siding and ceiling of the interior surfaces are redwood that was harvested, dried and milled locally. A deep, folded Corten steel roof shades and protects the building. The Corten will weather naturally, along with the locally harvested and milled redwood decking and siding. Carefully oriented redwood fins screen the glass-enclosed meeting rooms while capturing views outward.

A pathway of concrete pavers leads to and through the visitors center, culminating at a covered deck overlooking a meadow and the forest beyond. This portal frames nature, literally; as one approaches the forest comes into view. Nested into the meadow is a memorial created by design studio Matsys, a series of cast-concrete benches, inscribed with the names of family members and placed to recall the rings of a tree.

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Moving through the threshold, visitors enter the memorial forests. The old ‘skid’ roads, originally established for logging, define the main routes through the forest, while tributary trails branch off into more secluded spaces. This network of trails and openings flows with the land, guided by the knowledge of conservators and local trail builders, and eventually rises to a knoll with views to the sea and horizon.

Every detail from the landscape and architecture to the signage and memorial markers works to establish a quiet and reverent human presence. While each Better Place Forest will have a unique character, the underpinning vision will remain: to honor the transcendent beauty of the landscape and ultimately the people who choose this forest as their final resting place.

Technical Sheet

Location: Point Arena, CA

Completed: 2019

Architect: OpenScope Studio

Interior Designer: OpenScope Studio

Landscape Architect: Fletcher Studio

Memorial Design: Matsys

Structural Engineer: Dolmen Consulting Engineers

General Contractor: Empire Contracting, Inc.

Photographer: Hewitt Photography

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