Civilization and nature can peacefully coexist, especially when architects take exceptional care to bring visitors ever closer to nature with these innovative observation towers. Whether they are gigantic structures or small installations, inspiring design has allowed visitors and tourists to see another side of natural parks, while at the same time creating iconic structures that in themselves invite more tourism to national parks and nature spots.

Vlooyberg Tower, Belgium

Located in Flanders, Belgium, the Vlooyberg Tower is a staircase that literally leads to nowhere. Rising approximately 30 feet above the ground, the Vlooyberg Tower was built to replace a previous tower that had been destroyed by vandals. While the previous tower had been constructed of wood, the current tower was built entirely of metal, making it resilient to both vandals as well as the elements.

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Lake Seljord lookout points, Norway

These periscope-like structures are located at various points around Lake Seljord in Norway, approximately 100 miles west of Oslo. Standing 39 feet tall, the structures all face inwards towards the lake and were designed to blend in with the landscape. Built in 2011, the towers are gorgeous examples of minimalist architecture and are used as a higher vantage point to view nature and look out for the fabled lake monster Selma that is Norway’s answer to the Loch Ness Monster.

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HHF, Ruta del Peregrino, Mexico

This spiralling pavilion was designed by Swiss architecture studio HHF. It was constructed to be a permanent lookout point for people during their pilgrimage along the Ruta del Peregrino, a 73-mile long path that stretches across the Mexican landscape. Every year the path has more than 2 million visitors walking the pilgrimage from Amece to Talpa de Allende during the holy week. Constructed almost completely from concrete, the spiral staircase allows visitors the opportunity to observe the countryside from a high vantage point, while at the same time providing some welcome shade beneath it to rest in.

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Mur nature observation tower, Austria/Slovenia border

Modelled after the double helix in DNA, the beautiful Mur nature observation tower peeks out above the treetops near the river Mur in Gosdorf, on the Austria/Slovenia border. Reaching 89 feet above the ground, the tower provides visitors who manage the 168-step climb stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The tower was designed by the Munich-based architectural firm Terrain, combining art, nature and science in one iconic structure.

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Ryfylke route, Norway

One of the most talked-about attractions along the Ryfylke route in southwestern Norway are the dark shanties that stand on stilts at the Allmannajuvet zinc mines. Originally commissioned by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, these shanties were designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Peter Zumthor. The simple complex consists of a museum and a cafe building, along with a nature trail and parking facilities, and was created as a thought-provoking centre portraying the hardships that workers during the late 1800s endured.

Famed architect Peter Zumthor designed these curious black shanties on stilts, part of a tribute to Sauda's mining operations. Image © Monica Suma / Lonely Planet

Haim Dotan, Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Bridge, China

Haim Dotan agreed to build the world’s longest glass bridge only on the provision that it could disappear into the landscape of the surrounding Zhangjiajie National Forest. The bridge is 1,200 feet long and hangs from white cables that stretch from the cliffs, forming a glass walkway that allows visitors to view 1,300 feet down into the canyon below.

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When the bridge first opened, Dotan referred to it as the “Bridge of Courageous Hearts.” He said, “The Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge was designed to be as invisible as possible – a white bridge disappearing into the clouds. As the designer of this bridge located in an incredible and magical national park, I believe in nature, harmony, balance, and beauty. Nature is beautiful as is. One wants to make the least impact upon it.”

Pape Bird Observation Tower

The Pape Bird Observation Tower competition is the first in a series of architecture competitions organised in collaboration “PASAULES DABAS FONDS” THE OFFICIAL WWF ASSOCIATE PARTNER IN LATVIA Participants are tasked with creating designs for a new bird observation tower to replace the previous one that was struck by lightning and burnt down.

For this competition the jury is looking for a design that would enable the new bird observation tower to shape the very sensitive environment surrounding it, as well as giving it the potential to become an iconic landmark in its own right.

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