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Feasible? Architect plans living tree house

Is this feasible? A house and a garden at the same time, in the same space—a real synergy at last or a fairy tale?

Architect plans living tree house
Tracy Staedter
Discovery News
Growing a home from living trees instead of building a home from felled timber is the goal of an architect from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr Mitchell Joachim, part of the MIT Media Lab's Smart Cities Group, along with ecological engineer Dr Lara Greden and architect Javier Arbona, propose a home that is actually an ecosystem.

The Fab Tree Hab goes beyond sustainable housing and so-called green design, building with materials that have a low impact on the environment and human health.

"Not only does it do zero damage, but it will hopefully clean the air," says Joachim.

The habitat is based on an ancient gardening method known as pleaching, which weaves together tree branches to form living archways, lattices or screens.

In Joachim's vision, the exterior of the living house is shaped over the course of several decades into a protective crisscross of vines, interspersed with soil pockets and growing plants.

A clay and straw composite fills in the gaps to insulate against the cold and heat and keep out moisture.

He proposes constructing windows manufactured from soy-based plastics that would flex with the home as it grows.

Gathering water

Water would be gathered in a roof-top trough ...
Source: News in Science,


  • edited January 1970
    I would have to say that it isn't feasible. I imagine it's hard enough convincing clients that sustainable design is a practicle and feasible alternative to the brick veneereal without having to talk them around to waiting ten years until the hinges for the front door can be attached. Let alone dissallowing any heating in case the soy based protien windows get cooked to opaque like sausage skin. The title 'Fab Tree Hab" gives this bloke away as an unreconstructed hippie, but hopefully his work has some practicle application that the journo lost in translation.
    Possibly there is a market for the idea amongst landscape architects? Louis the 15th perhaps.
  • edited January 1970
    The article on growing houses by growing trees which would then become houses was interesting enough. Perhaps even more interesting was the smug, snide comment by Simon Season explaining why it would not work in his "instant gratification" world. The discrepancy between the two viewpoints not only highlights the reasons why we have wars but also highlights the importance of the creative minds of architects in achieving peace through "a third alternative".

    I have built a house out of living trees. It took me an hour or two. I simply bent over two rather haphazard lines of trees and tied the tops together to form an arch structure. Then I stretched a large tarpaulin over the structure, tied down to the base of the trees. Then I could release the ties so that the trees sprang up as far as they could to make everything wonderfully taught.

    The design process took even less time than the building. Because I did not need to cut any trees the structure was completely reversible, so that all those complicated ethical questions about environmental damage could be avoided.

    To my amazement the result was exquisitely beautiful. The dappled light and dancing shadows left me entranced. I say "amazement" because I did not set out to build something beautiful and I did not expect the result to delight my soul. All that was a bonus.

    The brief for the structure was very simple. It takes an hour to walk from the nearest road to the site I have chosen for a house. Everything has to be carried in. In a situation like this all those high ideals about touching the earth lightly become simple practical realities.

    By the time the sun went down at the end of the first day the few materials I had carried in were securely stored, some good coffee was brewing, and I had somewhere to sleep.

    The creative process is just that. Creativity never arrives. It goes on discovering. The architecturally designed house proposed for the site never did get built, and as a result there is a grassy knoll where you can now sit in the sun. By the time the chrysalis of the tarpaulin finally disintegrated, destroyed by wind and ultraviolet light, another house was revealed, which had slowly been growing beneath it.

    It did take four years before there was somewhere to put hinges to hang a door, but it also took that long to reach the conclusion that doors are not such a good idea. Doors keep people out. In contrast it only took a day or two to put down a welcoming doormat with a completely different message. If you need privacy you can turn the doormat over. Friends understand.

    Architects dream about what might be, and that leaves them open to the unexpected possibility. Every building worth building is ongoing research. Universities which decide that research means writing a book about what someone else has discovered are spiralling downhill into ecological collapse. The "climate change war" will finally be fought to defend a position lacking in credibility.

    Architects have a unique contribution to make to peace. Their restless creativity moves them away from polarised alternatives to a world which no one could have envisaged. It is the fun of the journey which leaves them wondering that if we have too many doors, too many hinges, and too many things to worry about, we might ask again if the real sustainability question is that we simply have too much building.
  • edited January 1970
    Thank you Tony for your reply to my post. I think it a little unfair to be described as smug and snide, but what the heck, you've gone so far as to say that my attitudes have contributed to war breaking out somewhere.
    Check out my post put up about ten minutes ago in 'architechture' to see what I believe in.
    To clarify myself, you have put the phrase 'instant gratification' into quotation marks and I can't recall having ever used that phrase or believed in its sentiments and I certainly never wrote it in my post that prompted your, dare I say, smug contribution to the thread.
    The gist of my arguement is that for the vast, and I mean vast, majority of humanity, waiting around for your home to grow is pure hippie fantasy.
    Not only that, it is an insult to the millions of people who dont even have title to the barren treeless land they already live on. Or how about those many more millions who live in high rise concrete towers. Do you honestly think that your fortunate circumstances are a solution to the problems of housing and simply living for many people outside our cosy existance.
    Aside from that, I think your idea is a beautiful one to bend trees over and roof it with a tent. I might have concerns about insect activity and dust, but I have an uncle who has lived in a humpy for nearly three years after being burned out in a bushfire and he just covers his computers with a sheet. Perhaps you should let this good idea head off to MIT Media Lab's Smart Cities Group. At least you propose something quicker than they did.
  • edited January 1970
    Tony, thanks again. On rereading your post this beautiful spring morning in my high mountain hide away which is one hour drive from the nearest villiage, a few more issues sprang to mind.
    You wrote that your original brief, for the house that was never built, was that it was an hours walk from the nearest road and that you therefore had to carry everything in. Would that possibly have had some bearing on the fact that you never built your architecturelly designed house.

    The first thing that occured to me was why didn't you try using a wheelbarrow?
    The next thing that occured to me was how selfish you must be to use a turned over "welcoming" doormat to indicate that "you need privacy".
    Presumably one would think that living an hour's walk from the nearest road was privacy enough, but to then arrive hot and sweaty from the long walk at your doorless arborial abode only to see your unwelcoming welcome mat, must be some tribulation for your "friends who understand" .

    I wonder if you have ever actually asked your friends what they think of such insular nonsense and frankly I think that the thought of knowing you have just turned away a friend, knowing that they know you are home because they can see and here you going about your business, is the height of "instant gratification". I hope that at the very least you leave a cool drink beside the doorpost and a peppermint under the doormat for them to recover with before they march back down your sullen track.
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