The first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word "treehouse" is probably the small wooden platform perched in your childhood oak tree, evoking scenes from Swiss Family Robinson or Tarzan. However, in the last 20 years, treehouse design has had a tremendous rise in popularity, appearing in architecture blogs and design magazines across the world. From the cozy, to the luxurious, the eco-friendly and the nearly invisible, these treetop retreats are a far cry from just nails fastened to plywood. With improved technology for builders, more disposable income and increased interest in green design, treehouses have made their way to the forefront of the architectural world.
Photo Left: used with permission O2 Treehouse
Photo Right: Peter Lundstrom, WDO-www.treehotel.se
Photo Below: used with permission O2 Treehouse
There is an innate connection with nature that makes treehouses inherently “green design." One firm that prides itself on eco-friendly construction is 02 Treehouse, based in Northern California. These light and spacious geodesic dome structures require very little material and have a minimal impact on the trees in which they are placed (hanging from cables rather than bolted to trees). Suspended up to 45 feet in the air, these hideaways can be used for residential, meditation and meeting functions.
Light filters thought the recycled triangulated panels, half of which open to allow natural ventilation to cool the space. The youthful spirit inherent in these 02 designs recalls the idealism of tree houses of the past, while providing solitude and communion in nature off the modern grid.
The availability of technology and materials has also spawned numerous self-taught treehouse builders, including Joel Allen, designer of the HemLoft (pictured below). Constructed entirely of recycled materials, this egg-shaped treehouse nestles among the hemlock forest in Whistler, Canada. At a modest 200 square feet, the retreat boasts sleeping quarters, an outdoor deck, and a work area. Pop-up windows provide light and ventilation, along with an incredible view of the snow-capped Tantalus range. The design meshes flawlessly with the surrounding environment, with the wooden slats creating a beautiful harmony with the forest, eroding the boundary between man and nature.
Photos: Hemloft, Joel Allen
Treehouses have also become travel destinations, with treehouse hotels and "treesorts" dotting the globe. Treehotel, located in northern Switzerland, is made up of seven individually designed tree rooms, one of which is the 13 X 13 foot Mirror Cube. This glass cube is built around the trunk of a pine tree, camouflaged by mirrored walls that reflect the surroundings. The interior is mainly plywood and has windows that give a 360-degree view, providing an intimacy with the surrounding forest, while still offering protection from harsh weather.
Photos:Mirror Cube, Peter Lundstrom, WDO-www.treehotel.se
Treehouse restaurants, like Pacific Environment’s “Yellow Treehouse," have provided an exciting dining option. Located in the wilderness of New Zealand, this restaurant has the room to seat more than 30 guests. The structure is made up entirely sustainably forested timber trusses, while the narrow entrance walkway twists around adjacent trees. The forest becomes the walls of the restaurant, presenting a treetop dining experience.
Photos: used with permission Pacific Environments, www.pacificenvironments.co.nz
The feeling of being in the treetops is exhilarating, satisfying humans’ basic desire to retreat, whether it be a hotel, public space, or in your own backyard. Treehouse design has grown to hold its own amongst the many branches of eccentric architectural mediums and will continue to inspire designers and "treesigners" alike for years to come.
All images used with permission as noted above