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© Hewitt Photography


Location:Point Arena, CA Completed:2019 Architect:OpenScope Studio In collaboration with Fletcher Studio Interior Designer:OpenScope Studio Landscape Architect:Fletcher Studio Memorial Design:Matsys Structural Engineer:Dolmen Consulting Engineers General Contractor:Empire Contracting, Inc. Photographer:Hewitt Photography


Located on the crest of a wooded rise, framing a view towards the meadow below, the visitor center for Better Place Forests in Point Arena, California marks the threshold of the visitors’ journey into the forest’s memorial groves.

Better Places Forests offers a sustainable alternative to cemeteries. Within these protected forests, families choose trees to mark the place where they’ll spread their loved ones’ ashes over generations. The concept has simple poetry—merging ritual, memorial, and forest conservation—yet its realization involved a large team of design and technical specialists, led by Fletcher Studio, landscape architects. Located on a 40-acre stretch of the Mendocino Coast, Better Place Forests’ Point Arena location establishes a framework for future sites, each with its own unique qualities.

The design of the experience centers to a greater extent around the surrounding land than its constructed elements. The site and architecture gently frame a sequence of events—arrival, orientation, memory, threshold, and release. An entry road descends into the site and arrives at the visitor center. Sited at the crest of a hill, this singular building is a place of orientation on the threshold between public and private.

The visitor center—the only building on the 20-acre site—contains two small meeting rooms, a restroom, and a staff room. The covered deck provides opportunities for small groups to gather for informal ceremonies while the overlook offers visitors a panoramic view of the forest and the meadow beyond.

The goal of the design is to create a definitive threshold—to make explicit the transition, literal and figurative, at the edge of the forest. The building is set above the hillside on piers, and the pathway that divides the structure brings the visitor from the ground directly up into the tree canopy. The folded roof pulls past the floor plate, providing deep overhangs to shade and protect the deck while the redwood fins provide privacy in the meeting rooms.