A Beautiful Alternative to the Traditional Cemetery

Openscope designs a magical threshold to a Better Place.

Better Place

Hewitt Photography

Treehugger has often discussed how to go green when it's your time to go, but we have seen few places as beautiful or interesting as Better Place Forests in Point Arena, California.

"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." This was a bit confusing; are ashes just spread around the forest?

The visitor's center is designed by OpenScope Studio with Fletcher Studios; OpenScope's principal Mark Hogan is known to Treehugger for his other examples of thinking outside the box. He explained that "you buy a memorial tree and then your ashes are mixed with soil and buried around the tree," so ashes are not randomly spread around but in a specific spot.

View of building in Trees

Hewitt Photography via V2Com

The project is really about the forest (permanently protected land bought from logging and development) with landscape architecture by Fletcher Studio, and with the building being a transition zone.

Road leading in

Hewitt Photography via V2com

"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."
Detail of building

Hewitt Photography via V2Com

"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."
Plan of building


I asked what Mark's favorite spot was and he replied, "My favorite part is the deck and view, the sense of being suspended in this sheltered space while also being in the forest." It's described also in the brief:

Deck visible through trees

Hewitt Photography via V2com

"A pathway of concrete pavers leads to and through the visitors center, culminating at a covered deck overlooking a meadow and the forest beyond. This portal frames nature, literally; as one approaches the forest comes into view."

Also interesting is how this land was logged, so instead of pushing new paths through, they follow the old "skid" roads used to drag out logs. "This network of trails and openings flows with the land, guided by the knowledge of conservators and local trail builders."

Sitting area among trees

Hewitt Photography

Treehugger has often questioned whether cremation is the greenest way to go, and we have looked at human composting, Promessa (which is kind of like freeze-drying), and dissolving. There are even Tibetan sky burials, where the body is left out in the open or in the trees for the vultures. We asked Mark Hogan and he wasn't certain if anything but cremation was allowed due to "pretty complicated agreements with jurisdictions" and we didn't ask, but suspect that the Tibetan option is not available.

view in the evening

Hewitt Photography via V2com

But cremation is still probably greener than a burial, and this is more about the experience than the sustainability. And here the experience is quite beautiful and moving, it truly is about going to a better place.

Read more about Better Place: Make Your Tombstone an Ancient Tree in One of These Memorial Forests