A narrow road takes me through the woods and meadows. Wild horses and auroxen are grazing between reeds. The long stalks sway in the wind. As I move forward I recognize a walkway leading through the reeds - a wooden construction that reminds me of water-breakers at the seashore.
The walkway makes a turn and I am led up over the water. Through a narrow opening I enter the tower.
The Pape Nature Park was established to preserve and protect the unique diversity of ecosystems of Pape wetland. Hiking trails take you through forests, meadows, active raised bogs, species-rich grasslands, and a strip of dunes that separate the Baltic Sea from the costal lagoon (Lake Pape). It is situated in a remote region of southwest Latvia close to the border of Lithuania. The area of 10,886 ha provides a place for hundreds of thousands of birds to pass through each year and supports thousands of bats. Just over half the area’s inland territory is designated as habitats of EU importance.
The lake is one of the most important nesting places for several protected bird species in Latvia. Over the past forty years it has been transformed and regulated by water canals, pumps and sluices that brought about a disastrous decrease in the water exchange process. Consequently reeds have been overgrowing the lake and are now covering about 80 % of it. The biodiversity of the territory has been in risk making the nesting and feeding conditions of the birds difficult. Awareness of preserving the area is now bringing it back to its original conditions.
The proposed tower stands at the lake’s trail creating a hide to observe birds. It is a place of pause and slow movement where you can understand how birds inhabit the environment – how they move with the winds or stand in the water between the reeds searching for food.
A continuous stairway takes you up. It embraces a system of poles and slowly opens up towards the entire landscape. The structure holds a roof that carries a skin of fabric. It resembles the reedstack structures that lie in the surroundings.
The water movement becomes significant in the shape of the margins and creates a repetitive pulse of moving in and out in soft arches. As water moves slowly among the dense vegetation, sediments and solid particles tend to settle down supporting the lifecycle of fish, amphibious, invertebrates and other organisms. The shoreline becomes indented by a variety of niches, bays and peninsulas that enrich biodiversity. Here the migratory birds breed and forage.
The circular flow of water in waves and whirls creates a dynamic between liquid and solid that shapes land in specific structures. This dynamic is continuously fed by cyclic movements of dilatation and contraction that can be translated into precise geometries.
A corridor is mowed for the construction of a narrow footbridge that connects the existing lake trail to the tower. A low wooden construction meandering through the landscape makes a turn rising over the water and arrives at the tower. The new Bird watchtower appears at a little bay tip on the edge of the reeds.
A waterproof fabric is hanging from the roof and merges with the gesture of the margins. An opening on the fabric invites you onto a stairway that continues the meandering and slowly takes you up to the view from two platforms.
A stairway - tall and narrow - reminds of an oversized continuation of the reeds. Deep steps receive you at the bridge - they suggest a slow movement upwards.
The translucent fabric around lets in a warm light that plays with the layering and shadows of the folds and encloses you in a protective skin. There is a slight breeze. Slim windows positioned in different heights allow the view out while you are still hidden. They are horizontal for a wider view on the landscape making it possible to follow the birds with your binoculars.
Wires connect the windows to the platform and to a structure that supports the upper part of the fabric. A stairway bends around the core and widens - the 1st platform takes place. It’s like an enclosed Cabin.
The spatial expansion makes the movements slower. The windows become wider and set a place for longer observation.
Like a reed that grows strong from a precise center 21 wooden poles gather to raise the structure. They are aligned in a curved axis forming a central core to provide stability.
The roof and the stairway connect the poles creating a strong construction that works as a unit - supporting and keeping the fabric in position.
Most skyscrapers can easily move several centimeters in either direction, like a swaying reed, without damaging their structural integrity. Following the same principle the structure embodies a flexibility that is able to neutralize the horizontal forces. A permeable fabric embraces the structure and provides a skin that can slightly move.
The stairway has an overall sense of continuity. From the 1st platform (cabin) the space stretches again in a stairway. The windows get narrower and the roof that looked unreachable before starts to get closer until you can touch it on the 2nd platform.
Here you rest on the threshold between protection and projection like in a nest. A long horizontal opening between the roof and the fabric makes you aware of the surrounding area of the lake as a whole. You are exposed to great migratory routes such as the Western Paleartic Bird Flyway, where it is possible to observe thousands of birds gathering on their journey.
The fabric is made of linen canvas coated with boiled linseed oil and chalk to make it waterproof and - a method used in Greenlandic kayaks where a single treatment lasts for years.
It hangs from the roof in wires. The pleating gives the canvas a thickness that allows the wires to run through the folds. The canvas is weaved with a pattern of wider stripes that makes the textile fold on its own - the looser weavings let more air go through, softening the pressure of the wind.