The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania


Philadelphia, PA

Project Details

Viewing Structure

For more than 50 years, a majestic grove of Metasequoia trees has risen high above the verdant landscape of the Morrisville Arboretum. Revered for their rapid growth and beautiful straight trunks, the Dawn redwoods had surpassed 100 feet since their introduction to the arboretum in the 1950s. Accompanying their growing stature, unfortunately, was their growing isolation from the children and adults enjoying the open expanses of land below them. Two artists, commissioned by the arboretum to build a new on-site exhibition, became enchanted with the grove, and wanted to create an installation that would re-engage visitors to the Metasequoias by sending visitors up into the trees.

Working with the artists, KSS Architects translated their visions into a viewing structure that gives visitors the ability to enter and experience the tree canopies as easily as birds. Respectful of its surrounding landscape, the structure is virtually indiscernible except for the “branches” from which visitors view the trees. To minimize its impact with the trees’ complex root system, the structure has only three support legs, creating a lightness that makes the basket, a brightly colored, open-air observation deck, appear suspended in the tree canopy. As visitors ascend the stairs to the basket, bolted connections in the structure’s steel frame allow it to flex with their movements, similar to the sway of tree branches subjected to load and wind. In the basket, visitors may sit on wooden benches while they contemplate their surrounds and listen to an interpretive audio piece that tells the story of Metasequoia trees.

The viewing structure has reinvigorated the arboretum visitors’ interest and interaction with the Metasequoias. It also takes sustainable design to a new level: Not only is the structure built using sustainable materials and construction methods, but it solely exists to foster a sustainable relationship between humans and the environment.

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