In August 2016, a group of students from architecture, design and art universities in the Cirrus network spent 10 days in a summer workshop in Soomaa forests, Estonia, studying the unique context of the area, where the landscape is severely altered by flooding rivers at least once a year. Tutored by architect and artist Sami Rintala (Finland), architect Pavle Stamenovic (Serbia) and Estonian architecture office b210, students built three floating structures – a shelter, a fireplace and a sauna – as a response to the changing and challenging environment of the area.
Two of the three objects have now been opened to the public as part of local forest infrastructure, testing how experimental forest infrastructure could provide for the needs of people living in the area or visiting it. However, one of the structures – the sauna – did not persist the testing, and sunk to the watery depths.
Why build on water? Professor Hannes Praks, head of the Estonian Academy of Arts Interior Architecture department explains: “Wet areas are, recreationally speaking, extremely charming due to the high number of species and unique landscape, but at the same time hard to explore, both in the sense of getting there and staying. VEETEE (in English: Water Way), being located in an area that regularly floods and shifts, develops this competency, exploring ways of being both a transport vehicle and a usable space.”
Praks explains the drive for a workshop taking place on the edge of swamps and bogs: “The Wilderness Summer School was born out of the worldwide success of the forest megaphones project. I’ve personally always liked forest infrastructure, huts and paths etc and I believe these small scale wooden infrastructure projects will continue to be our focus and strength for the near term future.”
One of the tutors, Sami Rintala puts the learning and building process in wilderness in wider context: “As an attempt to deal with contemporary challenges, both planetary and local, it is necessary and clever to jump outside the usual game and stratagem of the urban professional life, and seek a counter-phenomena out on the ‘edge’, where people are ripped off from their roles and positions, and need to act on a common ground. People’s real needs emerge, and they need to be fulfilled, and meanwhile ‘design’ becomes just part of ‘making’.”
The wooden installation will be a part of larger network of forest infrastructure organized by the State Forest Management Centre of Estonia, similar to the forest megaphones Ruup, built by students last year.
Soomaa is a mixture of boglands and meandering rivers that flood over seasonally, mostly in spring, when the water raises several meters higher for weeks. The water flows over flood-plain grasslands and forests and covers fields, forests and roads, disrupting connection with the rest of the world. Locals and visitors use boats to navigate the altered territory, but the students took up the challenge to see what types of floating space they could create, responding to the needs of people in the area.
Head of the Interior Architecture Department
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