Alfio Bonanno  -   "Himmelhøj" - 2004                                                             Zurück
Nature Center Vest Amager, Denmark

Works in Himmelhøj:
Himmelhøj consists of four site-specific installations commissioned by the Danish Ministry of the Environment. I was invited to design a non-traditional, sculptural playground, which would engage children of all ages and that would form the background for nature education and outdoor activities. The inspiration was that specific site with its unique flora, fauna and history. The challenge was to create and site works that were not just a visual experience but structures that could cope with heavy physical use with safety as a priority.

The Site:
Himmelhøj is situated in an area of 35,000 square meters, consisting of a flat marshy landscape, which has been reclaimed from the sea. This region is dry during the summer, but in rainy periods the water collects on the surface because of the clay strata in the earth, a remainder of the ancient seabed. Because of this, there is a varied and rich flora to be discovered growing in this field including some very rare and protected ground orchids. In some parts there are small pockets of low vegetation, predominantly Hawthorn, some Willow and Birch which originally germinated from seeds blown over the Øresund Strait from Swedish forests. In the distance, the Avenedø Coal Plant with its giant, sky reaching smoke-stacks dominating the distant horizon, the Copenhagen skyline, Ørested, with its rapidly expanding, futuristic skyscrapers and Scandinavia's biggest shopping center, Fields. These elements are connected by a new rail line, the Metro, with its station standing only a few hundred meters away. A "borderland" full of contrasts - between Nature and Culture!   


"Amager Ark"

The largest of the four installations is the Amager Ark. It was inspired by the rainwater that had collected in the flat area of the site.
I envisioned a very large organic Ark like structure stranded in this flat borderland landscape. The Ark that had come with its load of animals, insects and plants would create a fertile ground for stimulating stories, nature


education and of course play. Its organic form and size would create an exceptional contrast to the mechanical "floating" metro station; its trains endlessly transporting the many busy passengers to and from Copenhagen. It reminds me of busy ants, ever moving, transporting, building ....
The Ark is 55 meters long and 18 meters at its widest point. I see it as the "flag ship" of Himmelhøj. At the center of the Ark there is a 5 meter high, spiral shaped lookout tower built of granite boulders, that offer a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape and the Copenhagen skyline in the distance. At the foot of the tower, there is a fireplace where you can enjoy sitting by an open fire or even prepare food. Two tribune-stairways lead to two other lookout platforms, one to the stern the other in the bow. These are designed for improvisation and play; theatre, song, story telling; limited only by imagination. The "Amager Ark" contains many contrasts appealing to all senses.

In the vicinity, pheasants, hare, fox and black snake make their homes. Forest pigeons fly onto the ark and perch on the highest of the Oak poles. The areas vast variety of vegetation has now begun to "populate" the Ark. Herds of grazing deer, with impressive antlers, venture around and, sometimes, into the Ark, drawing attention to the contrasts.
In the rain season, the Ark reflects itself in the surrounding waters.


"Fox Den, Shelter and Nest"

Giant snails and forest pigeons live in this little forest of Hawthorn and Alder. Here also, herds of deer, camouflaged by the trees, seek daily refuge. In the dark of the night, foxes come to prey on small mammals and birds, leaving traces of feathers and bones in and around the shelter. Feathers from pigeons, owls and other birds fall down from the trees and work their way into the roof of the shelter. Sitting in the shelter and looking out, we become aware of a huge nest like structure high up in a nearby tree. Which strange animal or bird built this? Is it inhabited?


All visitors are asked to collect feathers from the area and to insert them into the shelter's roof of woven sticks. It will be interesting to see how this looks in a year's time. This shelter, which is built of local Willow, is approximately, three meters wide, four meters long and two meters high. Small boulders are installed in the interior as sitting places and there is a fireplace just outside the entrance. Some of the willow used for the construction will hopefully set down roots and grow into the structure. The nest, which is two meters in diameter and woven from local vegetation, is suspended high up in an Alder tree. I imagine that, in spring, birds will build their own nests into this structure.


"Fire Place"

This is a fifteen-meter, in diameter, structure enclosed by the roots of uprooted Pine trees that create a very dramatic, powerful and fascinating perimeter.
The earth masses clinging to the roots of the Pines contain many embedded stones, which are now revealed for the first time. As time passes,


the action of wind, water and people will expose the roots and reveal their intricate network of interwoven shapes, standing graphically against the surrounding sky and landscape. This structure, besides being visual and physical, is also intended as a central space for social activities, for example, for preparing and cooking food, holding nature classes, story telling and much more. Several of the large boulders in the interior of the structure have been prepared so that it is possible to grind wheat into flour and then make bread.
This structure was inspired by a huge uprooted pine tree from the 1999 hurricane,
which I had seen a nearby forest. The root structure stood approximately 2.5 meters high. The spiral form of the stone seating area, with its central fireplace, was inspired by the large forest snails that I found in the area.


"Insect Forest"

Is a twenty-four meter circular labyrinthine black forest made up of 350 charred Oaks, some of which rise over 7 meters high. At the heart of this "forest", there is an inviting nest-like shelter and a fireplace surrounded and protected by ancient boulders,some of which bear witness to a dramatic ice age journey from Northern Scandinavia. The Oaks are pocked with holes, that allow the light to


filter through, as well and the wind, which creates strange sounds as the giant trees sway and dance. Red-breasted Robins show their curiosity for this strange and inviting forest while spiders and other insects discover new habitats or seek refuge within the myriad of holes in the Oaks. At times, a ghost-like light forms within the heart of this magic perimeter triggering the story of this site to unfold.

Himmelhoj took two years to plan and one year to build. It incorporates 510 charred Oak trees, 1300 wooden Thuja planks, hundreds of tons of granite boulders and 30 uprooted Pine trees. It took heavy earth moving equipment and dozens of smaller pieces of equipment. During construction, we had long periods of rain. At one point we had to bring in pumps to keep the water at bay. The perfect site for an ark!!

Since the official opening, thousands of people have visited. It is open 24 hours a day. There have been classes, concerts, picnics and plays. My reaction to a site is the basis for the final work. It will then, hopefully, "breathe" and "come alive" by being used.

Alfio Bonanno