Summer interns design for observing the Amazon

Intern Team One explains the rainforest-renewing FauxForest

By Darion Ziegler

Summer internships at VOA offer valuable opportunities to glean design knowledge from professionals with years of firsthand experience in the field. As VOA interns in the Chicago office, we took our mentors’ advice to learn as much as possible this summer. We got together and decided we would like to participate in an architecture competition with the support of VOA. The interns met and chose the Arquideas’ Nature Observatory of Amazonia Competition as our challenge. The objective of the Nature Observatory of Amazonia (NOA), a competition for students and young professionals in architecture and design, is to produce ideas for the creation of a center in which the Amazon ecosystem can be studied and observed through intimate contact with nature. You can read more about the European-run competition and its international jury at arquideas.

Six interns divided into two teams of three. The first team was comprised of Darion Ziegler, Juliette Zidek and Jonathan Wilkinson. The second team was made up of Gabriel Vidal-Hallett, Giovanni Zampieron and Jose Barajas. We scheduled two critiques throughout the competition. At each critique, groups of VOA architects and designers examined our design concepts and drawings and then gave us their opinions and advice on refining the projects. We took their notes to heart, went back to the drawing board, finalized the projects and submitted our entries on Tuesday, July 2.


Team One’s design collaboration resulted in FauxForest. Our concept, developed over long nights sitting in VOA’s offices alone, drinking stale coffee. We struggled to come to terms with how to justify building in the rainforest; after all, the simple act of tourism and development of forest lands contradicts the goal of promoting conservation. Eventually, after a critique with VOA designers and architects, many sketches, and much frustration, inspiration struck! We decided that our project should facilitate growth itself, and FauxForest was born.



FauxForest: Rapid deforestation caused by logging, forest fires, cattle ranching and agriculture has left a scar on the Amazon rainforest. As a consequence, new growth rarely receives the nutrients and shade it requires before it burns up in the sun or washes away in the rain. Our design proposal seeks to repair these deforested regions by replicating the conditions of the rainforest and questioning the definition of an observatory. Tree-like structures in FauxForest collect excess water to prevent flooding and to provide shade to the forest floor underneath. A hemp net embedded into the forest floor assists the formation of root structures and prevent nutrients from washing out of the topsoil. The canopy of this FauxForest falls away as new growth requires more sunlight and water. As new growth climbs higher, the canopy of the faux forest decomposes completely. The flutes remain a piece of land art in the new forest and are the only trace of the original construction.


While neither VOA project won an award, both VOA intern projects were “preselected” by the jury to advance past the first rounds of judging—results here.

See and download the FauxForest competition entry at arquideas.

Public voting on the projects runs from August 10th-September 9th, so make sure to join in at

Read part two about Team Two’s project, Carambola next week.


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