Out on a Limb: Architects Take a Bough
According to Vitruvius, the Roman scholar who authored De architectura, architecture is man’s imitation of the nests, lairs, and hives animals build for themselves. He also famously observed that architecture must have commodity, firmness, and delight.
One wonders where he would have stood on treehouses. These improvised structures whose very foundations—tree limbs—are precarious, nearly always deliver on delight, but usually fall woefully short on firmness and commodity. Which is why it is so interesting that Berkshire Botanical Garden board members Matt Larkin and Elizabeth Hamilton chose architects, among other design professionals, to create treehouses. Even more interesting: the architects accepted an assignment further complicated by a serious caveat—for preservation and safety’s sake, their structures could not actually be up in the branches of any of the garden’s precious trees. Nonetheless, the six “treehouses” that are on display now and throughout the season (after which they will go to the highest bidder) offer enough delight to more than compensate for anything shortcomings they may suffer in their resemblance to, well, treehouses.
Architects Gray Davis and Will Meyer of Meyers Davis Studio, New York City, built a two-level structure resembling a fortified tower with a bird-viewing platform, a play on a medieval fortress.
Architect Robyn Sandberg’s tree house is about 1/70,000th the size of her most recent project, a 1,200 foot tall, 2.5 million square foot skyscraper in Manhattan. Inspired by the mockingbird who built a nest of interwoven sticks on her 17th-floor terrace, Sandberg contends that her version of a nest, made of bamboo, rope, plywood, and steel, could safely be suspended from tree branches.
A Seasoned Craftsman Plays by Memory
Designer and builder James Odegaard, Odegaard Woodwork in Ashley Falls, created a structure that is the most tree house-like of the lot. Based on his memories of his boyhood father/son building projects, Odegaard improvised, blending traditional woodworking techniques with found materials. The results look persuasively treehouse-like yet manages to provide shelter and a sense of safety.
A New Perspective on Water Towers
Brothers Mark Smith and Tim Smith of 9 Partners Design, Lenox, inspired by the water towers they knew from city rooftops in their youth, built a circular structure enclosing a group of quaking aspen. A low doorway, reminiscent of the entrance to a Japanese teahouse, leads the visitor inside a column of salvaged hemlock and cedar. Only the interior surface has been planed, so it forms a fragrant enclosure in which to contemplate the “art” of the trees trunks and the “ceiling” of green leaves above.
Out Building Mostly Made from Salvaged Materials
Designer Michael Trapp, whose eponymous West Cornwall, CT shop is mecca to design buffs from around the world, is renowned for his originality. More of a garden folly than a treehouse, his classical building has over-scale windows that look comfortable, yet though at odds, with the tent-like canvas walls.
A Glowing Japanese Lantern in the Garden
The treehouse designed by award-winning graphic designers Joseph Cho and Stefanie Lew of binocular design, ltd.., is inspired by a Japanese lantern. Two layers of marine plywood milled to evoke silhouettes of tree branches are sandwiched over screening to create a multi-layered effect. The house is furnished with tatami mats and is lit from within at night.
Berkshire Botanical Garden
9 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily
Now - Columbus Day
Members/free, adults/$12, seniors&students/$10, under 12/free
May 6 & 7 plant sale: admission free.