Before being transformed into a premier birding destination, the Canopy Tower was a United States military radar tower. Built in 1963 following the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was used primarily for defense of the Panama Canal, a vital U.S. controlled economic and military thoroughfare, from potential Soviet attack (fig. 2) (refs. 1 and 2).
In September of 1988, with the Cold War on the wane, the radar tower was activated as Site One in the Caribbean Basin Radar Network and used by the U.S. government to detect airplanes suspected of transporting illegal drugs from South America (source: History of the Canopy Tower/canopytower.com).
The radar tower and surrounding Semaphore Hill – 35 hectares of rainforest within the 35,000 hectare Soberania National Park – were transferred in November 1996, from the U.S. to Panama according to the terms of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties (Figs. 3, 5, 6 and 7).
In 1997, the government of Panama signed a long-term contract with Raúl Arias de Para to transform the tower into a center for rainforest observation and ecotourism in Panama.
‘…my project did not entail building inside a national park, something that is taboo to park authorities. Rather it meant transforming an old military installation into a center for the observation and study of the rainforest. To complete my project I did not have to cut down a single tree or use bulldozers or heavy machinery. I was simply proposing to remodel an existing military building and make it suitable for visitors interested in observing the rainforest and its inhabitants.’ Raúl Arias de Para
After Canopy Tower was inaugurated in 1999, Raúl Arias de Para asked us to incorporate the adjacent concrete piers that previously held military fuel tanks, into a pavilion for rainwater harvesting.
Soberania National Forest, Panama
Adaptive reuse of U.S. military fuel tank armature
SYSTEMS AND MATERIALS:
Wood deck, steel frame, tensile fabric membrane
Raúl Arias de Para
Lindy Roy with Anthony Burke
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