The second half of the 20th century saw Europe divided by the Iron Curtain. Closed to civilians, the zones on either side of the border remained relatively untouched, even as surrounding areas rapidly urbanized. By the fall of the Berlin Wall, the territory flanking either side of the no-go zone was verdant and green, covered in old-growth forest.

Now, the winding Green Belt is a protected nature reserve, where visitors can enjoy ancient woods and learn about the region’s rich history. Designed by Two in a Box Architects to unite the site’s historic past and green future, the Green Belt Center in Windhaag, Upper Austria — near the Czech Republic border — stands as a monument to the area’s exceptional story.

Opened in May 2015, the center conjoins modern construction and a historic building native to the site. The addition’s bright, rough-sawn silver fir façade is a stark visual contrast to the old cabin’s original dark siding.

Visitors enter the building where old and new construction meet. The center’s three-story central tower houses a media center and is topped by an observation deck. Varnished plywood interiors and polished concrete floors are offset by green accents and wildlife installations that evoke the outdoors.

Minimal decor, clean finishes and floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the building allow the site’s exterior to shine. The layered floor plan symbolically joins the old and new, while making use of an energy-efficient layout to remain ecologically friendly. [Photography by Kurt Hoerbst]