Kean Skylands Tree Canopy Walkway

This structure is the centerpiece of a satellite campus of Kean University in Oak Ridge, New Jersey and of Kean University’s School of Environmental Studies. The campus is known as Kean Skylands and is situated on top of Mt. Paul, a small northwest New Jersey mountain blanketed with forest. The central aim of the building is to provide an environment for learning that is uniquely attuned to the surrounding natural landscape.

The core of the elevated structure is a three-story tall “tree house” which provides “classrooms” in the guise of outdoor lecture areas. While the structure also uses steel as a structural component, the dominant experience of a student or other visitor is molded by the extensive use of exposed glue laminated timbers and wood flooring materials, in harmony with the stunning views and forest setting. It is fitting that the “forest bathing” experience this structure strives to provide is also made possible by natural timber materials, rather than by other, less environmentally friendly materials. In addition to the congruence between the structure’s timber materials and the educational uses of the structure, the choice of wood as the dominant aesthetic and structural material also allowed the tree house and connecting walkways to come in on budget, something that a more traditional concrete or steel structure would not have permitted.

In addition to the central tree house, viewing platforms are spread throughout the towering walkway structure. Some of these are at a height of up to 60 feet above the forest floor, well up in the tree canopy. They provide important vantage points for the views of the forest and mountain-side topography below, much like viewing stones in a Japanese garden instruct a visitor to wait and take the time to experience an important view.