The Precarious Tree
Wanted: an innovative tree-saving idea
Budget: ten million euros
Alternative: the axe
From two times two lanes to two times four. And they all have to pass under a narrow fly-over. It’s a tight fit, but it requires asphalting the central reserve, which means there will no longer be space for the tree.
The tree? What tree? The tree on the A58, the almost-200-year-old native oak saved as if by a miracle when the road was built. The first tree ever in the central reserve of a Dutch motorway. A beacon in the landscape of motorways that marks the entry of the Netherlands when coming up from the South. Not only a symbol of the merging of infrastructure and nature, but also of infrastructure and emotion; under this tree, Ernest asked his Janneke to marry him on 6 June 2006. They are still together.
Of course, Rijkswaterstaat says it’s possible to save the tree, which could reach an age of four or five centuries; it’s just a matter of demolishing the existing fly-over and building a wider one. The cost: around ten million euros.
It would, of course, be insane to spend that much money on a tree. If you were to do it in such a crude way, that is. But what if you were to go about it in a smarter, more innovative way?
Let’s calculate it: you need at least 33.2 meters for the lanes, left shoulders, lines and barriers; the fly-over is 37.7 meters wide, leaving you with a maximum of 4.5 meters. The tree has a cross-section of 1.5 meters, so it would just fit. But that means the asphalt would cover the roots of the tree and trees don’t like that. What’s more, it kills them.
Where is the designer who will think of a way to save the roots of the tree, keeping the oak alive? A floating lane, as one of the people living nearby suggested? An artificially fed tree? An integrated tree grate? Breathing asphalt.
In short, innovation. This would turn that ten million euros into a whole different story: no longer a cost item, but an investment that will recoup itself in time. Just like the Delta Project was not the costly hobby of environmentalists, as opponents in the sixties liked to claim, but a technical proof of competence with which the Netherlands put itself on the global map and which has been generating commissions and employment for decades.
It’s not merely about saving an oak, but about a new way of building roads and the development of knowledge that can be applied in a much broader context. To the building of infrastructure, but perhaps also far beyond.
Up until the mid-80s, trees were prohibited in the central reserve, according to Rijkswaterstaat because it was impossible. The tree on the A58 proved that it was possible, and since then the policy has been changed and Rijkswaterstaat is even planting trees between the crash barriers.
Can the tree now ensure another transition, but this time in the technological sphere? That’s the gauntlet that designers will have to take up. Because if innovation fails to occur, we should be sensible and cut down the tree, because it derives its meaning and dignity from this location. Moving it is useless, in any other spot it would just be one of the 3,040,288,194,238 trees in the world today according to a recent study by Yale University. If it survives at all.
Anyone with a good idea can count on the avid interest of Rijkswaterstaat and Innova58. The only condition is that the tree stays where it is.
E-mail your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org.