The design concept for the addition to a 5-star eco-resort, located in the Bruce Peninsula north west of Toronto, Canada, consists of twelve suspended, one-bedroom tree house villas nestled into a forest which is part of the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Consistent with the client’s philosophy of creating a restorative place in the forest that harmonizes with nature, the structure is designed to be suspended from the trees’ trunks, rather than following the common practice of nailing to the tree, thereby hugging the tree rather than piercing its flesh.
The design, which made its debut in 2012, emerged from a desire to not only be “in the trees” but also “of the trees.” The dominant image is derived from the shape of a samara, commonly known as the maple key, a winged, fibrous, papery propeller shape that appears in autumn and enables the wind to carry maple tree seeds (which biologists refer to as the “fruit”) farther from the parent tree than regular seeds. The sleeping area of the tree house is located in the “fruit” section of the samara shape, with the socializing area located in the “wing” section.
Prefabricated off-site in three pieces, the structure will draw from East Coast light-weight wooden sailing boat construction techniques. Each samara villa frame will be hoisted into place and bolted together in the winter months with absolute minimal disturbance to the delicate flora.
The locally-harvested, Forest Stewardship Council-certified frames are suspended from a simple steel shoulder and cable system that hugs the tree trunk. This construction methodology is inspired by the umbrella-like yukitsuri ropes which support the black pine tree branches in Kenrokuen Garden located in Kanazawa, Japan. High-strength drawn carbon structural cables, made of a series of small strands twisted together like a vine, form larger cables which are attached to spiral circular rods. These rods are tied to the embedded plate connection at the wooden beams.
Each season, fabric bonnets attach to the wooden frame and function like the leaves of a tree, providing shade and comfort while actively neutralizing airborne pollutants. The bonnets are made out of PTFE fiberglass coated non-toxic and flame-resistant TiO2 (titanium dioxide) fabric. The self-cleaning benefits of TiO2 bonnets allow the material to break down dirt and other organic materials through a chemical reaction with the sun’s UV rays, oxygen and water vapor present in the air.
Electricity is self-generated, gained through a decentralized PV power grid. Materials have been chosen based on their economic and environmentally sensitive qualities. They are non-toxic and transparently sourced from socially equitable origins.
The tree house villa concept reflects a growing awareness and appreciation for biophilic design, which is derived from the instinctive bond that exists between human beings and other living systems. A leader in the eco-tourism movement, this project points the way as an example for others. It celebrates low-impact structures that connect people directly with living things through imagery, materials and structure.
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