Blog > Tread Lightly: How do you design to experience a forest while protecting the trees?
Tread Lightly: How do you design to experience a forest while protecting the trees?
midland blog


Every site visit is exciting. There’s a certain thrill that accompanies seeing something that you’ve labored over on paper and screen come to life and become a space to experience.  This was the design team’s first site visit since the beginning of structural steel installation.  While we were confined to the ground, we could still follow along as the canopy walk skimmed through and around the trees, reaching out over the water and up to the sky.


midland blog 1

Alan Metcalfe studying a view along the deck of the future canopy walk. 


midland blog 2

The view at deck height looking over an ephemeral pond hidden in the forest.


Laid out by the design team during a series of site walks over the past year, the 3 arms of the canopy walk gently curve through a forest of pines, spruce, and oaks.  The design team worked on site to highlight significant views that tell the story of the forest and its surrounding ecologies. 


03 pile cap stencil

The design team discussing the rotation of a pile cap in the field.


Working with Dow Gardens’ arborists, we painstakingly placed, shifted, and rotated the foundations in the field to avoid damaging any tree roots. 


04 tree root protection

A field of plastic tiles line the forest floor dispersing the weight of heavy equipment preventing damage to tree roots. 


05 tree interference 2

A minimum of 8” is maintained around all trees to allow them room to sway during wind storms.


In the air, the canopy walk grazes past the trees, bringing visitors as close as possible to the surrounding forest.  Where we couldn’t quite avoid a tree, we highlighted it by getting as close as possible and curving the steel structure around it.  


06 pond arm below

Columns are sloped and rotated to mimic the growth of surrounding trees.


Protection of the trees is about more than maintaining their physical well-being.  Inserting a 1392 foot long canopy walk that extends almost 40 feet into the air could easily damage the character of the forest.  Preserving the history and feeling of the surrounding ecology was a chief concern during the design process.  In addition to a layout that is sensitive to the trees, the canopy walk takes cues from adjacent colors and forms to blend in with the forest.


07 pond arm cantilever

Leaning out over the water, the columns reference trees growing along a shoreline.