Exploring the rainforest without touching the ground

There are any number of reasons you might want to spend some time in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil.

Perhaps you’re a scientific researcher, searching for that rare botanical that might hold the key to the world’s next big cure.

Maybe you’re there to study the dietary habits of some of the few remaining golden tamarind monkeys. Or maybe you’re simply a traveler with a deep-seated desire to experience one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.

Whatever your reason for wanting to visit the Brazilian rainforest, even the most well-meaning of human traffic can negatively impact the local ecosystem. 

Which is why Yi Yvonne Weng created “The 6th Layer – Explorative Canopy Trail,” an ultra-lightweight, self-sustaining and easily deployable architectural system that occupies the space at the very top of the tree canopies. The extra layer of space it creates opens up new ways to perceive, occupy and experience the forest.

This project, which recently won the 2012 Foster + Partners Prize, was designed to address the theme of sustainability and infrastructure by seeing the Brazilian Amazon forest as a natural infrastructure to work with, rather than against.

Hanging raindrop-shaped units contract at different lengths for plant collection, and are accessed through an internal ladder system. Each unit is made up of a three-layered mesh grid of different densities: a low density of metal rods for structural support, a medium density for ventilation and bird passage, and a high density layer for a walkable surface.

Rainforest products and samples collected via this trail system are then picked up from the air by small planes or other air vessels deployed by environmental nonprofit organizations and pharmaceutical firms.

The 6th Layer contains a research lab as well as an area for production processing and two living units. The system was intended for scientific/medicinal research and ecotourism, but it could have other benefits as well: by offering concerned parties a “bird’s eye view” of the forest, it could aid in the protection of both indigenous peoples (often targeted by entities seeking to exploit the forest) and the forest itself.

Interested in other low-impact ways to enjoy the big trees? Check out the Finca Belavista eco-village of Costa Rica and the Free Spirit Tree Spheres of Vancouver, B.C.

Susan DeFreitas, EarthTechling