Willow Palaces, Cathedrals and Domes - Sanfte Strukturen

(from sanfte strukturen website)

Sanfte Strukturen builds willow palaces, cathedrals and domes. Marcel Kalberer, the head of the group, says he does this because he believes in developing socially-sustainable building processes and encouraging human co-existence with the natural world..... and what a magnificent co-existence it is!
The building techniques he uses are based on the ancient Sumerian reed houses of Mesopotamia and the traditional European small outbuildings constructed of woven plants and trees. Yet while both these were built of tightly bound reeds and green branches, Kalberer's structures uses the whole tree which is woven in place to form a living structure.
Arena Salix, Schlepzig 2004

Sanfte Strukturen built its first public willow structure in 1998, The Auerworld Palace in Auerstedt, Germany.

It was built by a diverse group of 300 people - children, seniors, men and women and students from many different nations and started with a party on the first full moon before Easter 1998 and ended in party on a full moon a month later.

All woodcutting, binding, planting and construction was done by hand accompanied by lots of music and frivolity. Kalberer described the unconventional building process as somewhere between a chain gang and a party!

Today the Palace is a major tourist attraction in the countryside between Weimar and Naumburg. It is home to full moon dance parties known as the Auerworld Festivals, which is said to draw more than 80,000 visitors.

It is the 'mother of all willow palaces' - the first large scale example of botanic architecture in the world.

Marcel Kalberer prefers the term "living architecture" because of the botanical and ecological implications and because all his structures are created by a community of volunteers.  

This is not the rarified world of conventional architecture dominated by professionals and experts - it is more like a community barn raising as we see in the Amish tradition.

Kalberer has since built more than 70 structures around Europe. He has shared and explained his technique to others, and according to him, there are now more than 10,000 small willow constructions at schools and in private gardens around Germany.

You can use this idea in your garden! Stone Art Blog discusses the technique of using long un-rooted willow cuttings or whips to make functional and attractive structures/barriers in the garden that will grow and develop throughout the years. Check it out!


  1. WOW!! SInce the Germans were at the forefront of green roofs.. could they figure out a way to create this on a roof of a building?!?!

  2. How delightful! I imagine children especially have a hard time leaving structures like that. I'd need a prybar to get my kids to leave.

    Christine in Alaska

  3. Nice post, Sanfte Strukturen really do some amazing work. Thanks for the mention :)

  4. Talk about sustainable building! I've been thinking about this all day. I think this is a marvelous example of foresight and commitment. To know that a structure will LITERALLY out-live its creator gives it an almost magical power. Indeed, much like the famous henges in the UK (Stone-, Earth- Wood-henge, pick one!) these living structures seem to serve as both compass and calendar. The growth patterns of the trees must be dependent upon sunlight making it possible to tell North from South, and I can't think of a better way to welcome the coming of spring than to observe the swelling and yellowing of the willow buds.

  5. What a beautiful comment, Nine! I am now searching sources of willow whips..

    I love the idea that structures can serve as a compass.
    Too many of us have no clue about the cardinal directions and yet they affect us markedly...more on that later..

  6. So inspiring! I just found a young "Haruko Nishiki" willow; makes me wonder what it wants to be .....

  7. This is really interesting. I really like the idea of Kalberer. In fact I even search his name to look for his works. Nice post.

  8. Oo wow, more than 70 structures around Europe and I'd never even heard of him! I love the idea of living architecture, will have to make a note to visit something by him this summer on my holidays!


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