Alfio Bonanno -
Center Vest Amager, Denmark
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.