a botanical garden in midland, michigan is now home to the longest tree canopy walk in the united states. the project, which opened in october 2018, comprises a network of bridges, paths, and tree canopy walkways that are populated with engaging gathering points and interactive features — including a series of treehouse-like structures that create a sense of discovery for children and adults alike.

metcalfe whiting forest dow gardens tree canopy
all images by nic lehoux



designed by metcalfe, a philadelphia-based multi-disciplinary practice, the installation complements the existing dow gardens complex — the botanical garden and arboretum established in 1899 by herbert h. dow. the scheme offers an intimate experience of the 54-acre pine forest, with visitors given the freedom to wander and explore independently. the site also includes a new playground, apple orchard, bridges, amphitheater, visitor center, café, and forest classroom.

metcalfe whiting forest dow gardens tree canopy
view looking toward orchard overlook



the centerpiece of the project is the 1,400-foot-long (427m) tree canopy walk — the longest in the country — which offers views from 40 feet (12m) above the ground. meanwhile, expansive cargo nets stretched between trees create places for visitors to walk, jump and sprawl safely while suspended 25 feet (7.6m) over the forest floor. elsewhere, walk-in slatted-wood pavilions in abstracted forms of nests and pods offer shelter and act as settings for reflection, discussion, and observation.

metcalfe whiting forest dow gardens tree canopy
the orchard arm overlook of the canopy walk reaches its highest elevation of 40 feet (12.2 meters)



‘this active, participatory environment is an architectural antidote to the over-reliance on virtual, screen-centric life that people today typically experience,’ explains alan metcalfe, principal of metcalfe. ‘in a world of technology that sometimes makes us more divided, we work to design places that bring people together outdoors and in nature for purposeful interaction. whiting forest of dow gardens is a great example of that philosophy.’

metcalfe whiting forest dow gardens tree canopy
a new playground is located below the canopy walk

metcalfe whiting forest dow gardens tree canopy
the view from ground level

metcalfe whiting forest dow gardens tree canopy
an upper level and roof structure engage with the landscape

metcalfe whiting forest dow gardens tree canopy
this structure is topped with a bright red roof

metcalfe whiting forest dow gardens tree canopy
pod-like structures create a sense of discovery for both children and adults

metcalfe whiting forest dow gardens tree canopy
this sheltered pavilion is elevated 30 feet (9.1 meters) in the air and looks out over a pond

metcalfe whiting forest dow gardens tree canopy
the structure becomes softly illuminated at dusk

metcalfe whiting forest dow gardens tree canopy
integrated lighting highlights the path

metcalfe whiting forest dow gardens tree canopy
a midcentury modern house by alden b. dow has been restored and repurposed



project info:


name: whiting forest of dow gardens
location: midland, michigan, USA
architect: metcalfe
photographer: nic lehoux

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