Between the Trees

Urban Greenery – Art – Design

3 February – 16 April 2023

Trees are of fundamental significance for urban spaces and green areas in the city. They play a central role in cooling the urban space, regulating rainwater, purifying the air and improving the mental and physical health of city dwellers. But trees also serve as a source of inspiration and as material for design and art.

The exhibition Between the Trees brings these aspects together and uses international projects and works from the fields of art and design to raise awareness for the fact that trees provide an essential basis of life for both people and animals in urban spaces. The aim is to increase the appreciation and integration of trees in urban contexts or spaces. 

The selected projects and works present the tree as an inspiration in terms of material, function and aesthetics, including statements from the fields of conceptual design, industrial design, arts and crafts and the visual arts. Thematically, the projects deal with issues of climate change, material availability and use (wood as a material or alternatives), bionics, the domestication of nature and urban planning.

Artists, designers and works: Andreas Greiner: Exit Strategy, 2022 / Anna Koppmann: Frischholz, 2021 / Atelier NL: Wildhout – Village, 2019 / Dan Hoopert: Audio Synthesis: What Does a Tree Sound Like?, 2022 / ecoLogicStudio: HORTUS ZKM SuperTree, 2018 / Ellen Bornkessel: Embassy of Trees, 2018/2023 / FormaFantasma: BEKVÄM, 2020 und Quercus, 2020 / Lanius: Sneaker, 2023 / Giuseppe Licari, Politics of Care, 2022 / Jasper Morrison: Cork Family, 2004 und Corks, 2019 / Johanna Seelemann: Oase, 2023 / Klára Šumová: Understory, 2023 / Klaus Littmann: FOR FOREST - The Unending Attraction of Nature, 2019 / Konstantin Grcic: Medici, 2013 / Melissa Acker: LEAFovers, 2022 / Pierre Ramaekers: E411 Serie, 2021 / Raumlabor Berlin: House of Time – Baumhaus, 2018 / Robert Voit: New Trees, seit 2003 / Solar Visuals: Solarpaneele Maple Leafs, 2018/2023.

The exhibited statements from design and art serve as a medium for communicating urgent, sometimes still abstract, issues of sustainability, climate protection and nature conservation. Representative of the richness of nature, the object of the tree creates a sensuous and creative access to experiencing the subject. The exhibition aims to make visible the emotional and cultural aspects of the tree, as well as its significance as a life form in nature and thus also for life on earth.

Biological-climatic Level – Reconceptualising the Tree
The tree has indispensable functional properties for the ecosystem of the Earth and for us humans: it produces oxygen, without which we cannot live. It purifies the air, provides shade and cools the ambient temperature by several degrees, which is particularly valuable in cities. As an ecosystem in its own right, the tree provides a habitat for other organisms. Besides all this, it is also an indispensable protagonist in the fight against climate change and for the preservation of a functioning, healthy environment. Increasingly, the tree itself, whether in cities or forests, is being affected by the consequences of the climate crisis, such as heat, drought, pest infestations or weather phenomena.

Reconceptualising the Tree explores how designers and artists are inspired by its functional capabilities. In what ways does the tree serve as a model for (technological) inventions that enable a careful use of resources? This level of the exhibition deals with our fascination for trees and their biological-functional properties, as well as with the challenges they face within the urban space, in relation to an industrial system geared towards mass production and in relation to climate change.

Material Level – Using the Tree in New Ways
The tree provides us with materials: wood, cellulose, lignin, bark and foliage. Wood has always been one of the central materials we work with. Different types of wood also have different characteristics: some are lighter, some denser, some more flexible, some harder. Wood is a "living" material – it stretches and expands, swells and contracts, it transmits vibrations. When not burned for energy, it stores CO2 permanently. However, the availability of a renewable resource like wood is not unlimited. In Germany, too, logging exceeds what the forest can cope with from an ecological perspective. Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity has used up all the biological resources that the Earth regenerates in the course of a year: in 2022 this was 28th July. Resource scarcity can serve as inspiration to develop innovative, contemporary and future-oriented technical and design processes and materials.

Using the Tree in New Ways deals with the preservation of resources through the use of dead wood, bark and foliage, as well as with the development of new materials, such as clothing made from cellulose fibres.

Cultural Level – Reinterpreting the Tree
What is the cultural, social and emotional significance of trees for people in urban areas? Trees bring nature into the city and create places of rest and relaxation, play and adventure – not only for children but also for adults. Trees contribute measurably to the physical and mental health of city dwellers. Current studies show, for example, that walking in a forest or park lowers blood pressure. And with wood as a material, we also like to bring nature into the urban home.

Reinterpreting the Tree plays with a change of perspective: How do trees fare in the city? Their life between exhaust fumes, sealed asphalt or concrete surfaces, between protective but equally limiting fences, and the lack of water implies a high degree of stress. But do we see the tree as a living thing or as part of the street furniture? Can designers empathise and even design from a tree's point of view? Which obligations, which responsibilities do we have towards the tree? How can we treat trees with more respect and shape our coexistence differently? And: Would a more respectful treatment of trees also have a positive influence on our social cohabitation?

The exhibition will be accompanied by an ambitious supporting programme. In addition to lectures, guided tours and workshops, exclusive special events are planned in the MAKK and its surroundings. The supporting programme is funded by the Stiftung Umwelt und Entwicklung Nordrhein Westfalen. The events Wertewandel will focus on the urban surroundings of the MAKK and thus also on the oldest inner-city park by Kolpingplatz, established at end of the 19th century. There, price tags will be hung from the branches of the trees to provide clear information about the biodiversity that each tree provides for us each and every day (further information blue box on the right).

An exhibition by the Museum of Applied Arts Cologne(MAKK) in collaboration with Ökorausch Think Tank e.V., sponsored by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Overstolzengesellschaft, the Sparkasse KölnBonn, the Beatrix Lichtken Stiftung, the Schutzgemeinschaft Deutscher Wald (SDW) and the Abfallwirtschaftsbetriebe Köln (AWB).

The supporting programme for the exhibition was conceived in cooperation with ökoRAUSCH Think Tank e.V. and is sponsored by

Öffentliche Führungen und Veranstaltungen

Alle Termine und Informationen über öffentliche Führungen durch den Museumsdienst oder die Kuratorinnen entnehmen Sie bitte unserem Veranstaltungskalender. Veranstaltungen zur Ausstellung werden sukzessive im Veranstaltungskalender veröffentlicht.

Bookable group tours

The Museum Service offers individual group tours of the exhibition. All information and the booking form can be found here.

Trees for Cologne

100 fruit trees were placed with gardeners in Cologne through tree sponsorships. Many thanks to the Schutzgemeinschaft Deutscher Wald for their generous support. The campaign is over. Please do not submit any more requests.