Arboretum. Trees as architecture

Arboretum. Trees as architecture

15.03.2024 — 06.10.2024



‘Arboretum. Trees as architecture’ is our first exhibition in 2024. It is travelling from Arc en Rêve Centre d’Architecture (Bordeaux), where it was presented in September 2021 with the aim of reaffirming the architectural character of trees and highlighting the way in which they have been the object of architectural reflection.

Although the precision of materials such as bricks contrasts with the unpredictability of elements such as branches or roots, the truth is that trees occupy an important place in the history of architecture. On the one hand, they have been the source of one of the main building materials for centuries. On the other hand, they are one of the fundamental elements of architectural design and urban development projects. Sometimes preserved, sometimes integrated in different interventions, trees often coincide with the intentions of architecture, urban planning and landscaping professionals.
Arboretum. Trees as Architecture’ aims to show how architecture and trees have always been intimately linked. To this end, it brings together a multitude of selected examples from all over the world and from different periods. Distributed throughout the space of the rooms as if it were a forest, they define a continuous landscape, allowing the public to wander freely, create free associations and build their own network of links and interpretations.

The original exhibition has been adapted to the spaces of the Basque Country Architecture Institute and expanded with local examples to suit the current architectural, urban and landscape situation of the region. In total, there are 23 specific examples represented in different formats, such as models, engravings, drawings, photographs, books and audiovisual materials.

A particular arboretum

An arboretum is a collection of trees arranged in a landscaped area, the reference point for the exhibition. This one, in particular, brings together examples from all over the world, from more than 25 collections.

Among the pieces on display are drawings from the Drawing Matter collection in London (1796-1959), by authors such as Le Corbusier, which explore the role of drawing in architectural thought and practice. There are also sketches by the renowned architect Álvaro Siza, who used the same pencil strokes to represent buildings and plants.

Plans, images and models reflect a number of other cases where trees have provided inspiration for projects around the world. Among them, an unbuilt stadium for the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan, which was inspired by the idea of how planted soils can counteract the consequences of climate change in urban environments by retaining rainwater. Or the daita2019 House in Japan, whose design, based on scaffolding and platforms between which trees grow, was inspired by the feeling of spaciousness of a house that, like a tree, is able to evolve according to the needs of its occupants.

The natural environment that trees create has also been fundamental for architecture professionals. The exhibition shows the case of a hotel in Sri Lanka, designed to adapt to the forest where it is located and on whose roof more trees have been planted, making it disappear from view. Or a forest-building, built for a supermarket chain in the United States, which instead of cutting down the trees on the site, split the building in two so that they could remain in place.

In addition to providing inspiration or scenery, trees have also been used for building. Arboretum’ reflects the case of the Sharjah Oasis in the United Arab Emirates, where the OFFICE studio used palm trees between metal mesh to place them in the centre of the city and build a space where people could meet and refresh themselves. Or the poplar groves that emerged in the Basque Country after the Enlightenment to provide leisure spaces in walled cities.
One of the local concepts that has been added to the exhibition on this occasion is that of the tree as a symbolic element, under whose shade the first political space was created. It was a tradition in the Basque Country and other cultures of northern Spain to have one in sacred, spiritual or institutional places, and three well-known Basque trees are shown as examples.

‘Arboretum. Trees as architecture’ will be open until October 2024, during which time different activities will be organised that will take the reflections of the exhibition out of its rooms. There will be different conferences and meetings that have been divided into three thematic blocks. The first of these, ‘Hezi’, will focus on the renaturalisation of school spaces, with the participation of agents promoting different projects already underway in the Basque Country and elsewhere. It will take place from 17 to 19 April.

Secondly, ‘Bizi’, which will deal with trees as a human habitat. It will take place in May and will focus on the arboreal heritage of our territory, where the public will be able to learn more about the species that inhabit our cities, their choice, their care… Finally, the ‘Pentsatu’ block will bring a series of conferences to reflect on the tree as architecture, in September.

Complementary programme

‘Arboretum. Trees as architecture’ will be open until October 2024, during which time different activities will be organised that will take the reflections of the exhibition out of its rooms. Find out more.

Additionally, the Basque Country Architecture Institute offers free guided tours for school groups from 5th grade of Primary to Baccalaureate where, in addition to the exhibition, they can get to know this unique building in the heart of the Old Part of Donostia on the slopes of Mount Urgull. They can be requested at

Photos by Mikel Blasco

From Tuesday to Friday
17:00 – 20:00
11:00 – 14:00
17:00 – 20:00
11:00 – 14:00

From March 25 to April 6
Monday to Sunday
11:00 – 14:00
17:00 – 20:00