written by:
photos by:
October 28, 2009

When a 40-year-old pine tree fell over at the rear of a Brentwood estate in Los Angeles a few years back, its owner, an art lover and a philanthropist, let it lie. The tree revived itself, continuing to grow from its newfound horizontal position. At that point, the owner decided to honor its resilience by incorporating it into a 172-square-foot office / guest house.

The tree house is perched on a hill that offers canyon vistas and views of downtown L. A. and the Getty Museum.
The tree house is perched on a hill that offers canyon vistas and views of downtown L. A. and the Getty Museum.
Photo by 
1 / 11
A clerestory around the perimeter of the butterfly roof gives an illusion that the roof floats over the box of the tree house.
A clerestory around the perimeter of the butterfly roof gives an illusion that the roof floats over the box of the tree house.
Photo by 
2 / 11
A mere 172 square feet, the tree house in the hills of Brentwood in Los Angeles was designed by Rockefeller Partners Architects, Inc. as a refuge, gallery and guest cottage.
A mere 172 square feet, the tree house in the hills of Brentwood in Los Angeles was designed by Rockefeller Partners Architects, Inc. as a refuge, gallery and guest cottage.
Photo by 
3 / 11
The entry and stairs to the tree house complex was sculpted from exposed, unpainted concrete, designed to suggest the ladder of a traditional tree house.
The entry and stairs to the tree house complex was sculpted from exposed, unpainted concrete, designed to suggest the ladder of a traditional tree house.
Photo by 
4 / 11
The tree house serves also as temporary guest quarters, with modern-day amenities like a daybed, a sink, a toilet, a small refrigerator, a fireplace and a microwave.
The tree house serves also as temporary guest quarters, with modern-day amenities like a daybed, a sink, a toilet, a small refrigerator, a fireplace and a microwave.
Photo by 
5 / 11
To reconnect back to the fallen tree, the architects carved a portal in the walnut floor, affording a view of the inspiration for the house itself.
To reconnect back to the fallen tree, the architects carved a portal in the walnut floor, affording a view of the inspiration for the house itself.
Photo by 
6 / 11
Materials and craft play a significant role inside and out. The columns are Type 316 stainless steel – almost nautical grade. Floors and walls are walnut; windows are mahogany.
Materials and craft play a significant role inside and out. The columns are Type 316 stainless steel – almost nautical grade. Floors and walls are walnut; windows are mahogany.
Photo by 
7 / 11
Metaphorically, architect Chris Kempel said, the Kynar-painted steel columns are trees. “It was like taking a box and poking it with chopsticks.”
Metaphorically, architect Chris Kempel said, the Kynar-painted steel columns are trees. “It was like taking a box and poking it with chopsticks.”
Photo by 
8 / 11
The architects took about eight months to design the tree house. Construction of the inhabitable sculpture, with its studio and lounge, took another 18 months.
The architects took about eight months to design the tree house. Construction of the inhabitable sculpture, with its studio and lounge, took another 18 months.
Photo by 
9 / 11
The outdoor shower below the tree house was shaped and formed from concrete to be a truly private experience.
The outdoor shower below the tree house was shaped and formed from concrete to be a truly private experience.
Photo by 
10 / 11
Small live/work space in Los Angeles
Large floor-to-ceiling windows and doors provide abundant natural light and ventilation.
Photo by 
11 / 11
The tree house is perched on a hill that offers canyon vistas and views of downtown L. A. and the Getty Museum.
The tree house is perched on a hill that offers canyon vistas and views of downtown L. A. and the Getty Museum.
Project 
Brentwood Tree House

While most tree houses have a trunk running vertically, this structure floats above the tree, suggesting the delicate tension between nature and the built environment. Serving as an inhabitable sculpture – a refuge, a gallery and a guest cottage – it's perched atop a hill and overlooks canyon vistas, downtown Los Angeles and the Getty Center.

 

Rockefeller Partners Architects spent about eight months on the design. “It was a complex little puzzle,” said Chris Kempel, the project’s architect. “It was like taking a box and poking it with chopsticks,” he said about five slightly canted steel columns that pierce its cedar exterior.  “We had a bunch of fun with it.”

To reconnect back to the fallen tree, the architects carved a portal in the walnut floor, affording a view of the inspiration for the house itself.
To reconnect back to the fallen tree, the architects carved a portal in the walnut floor, affording a view of the inspiration for the house itself.

Check out the slideshow to see more images of the project.
 

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

San Francisco dining room with chandelier and Eames shell chairs
Brooklyn-based RBW's work—from diminutive sconces to large floor lamps—shape these five interiors.
February 09, 2016
Glass-fronted converted garage in Washington
These garages go behind parking cars and storing your drum sets.
February 09, 2016
Modern Texas home office with sliding walls, behr black chalkboard paint, concrete walls, and white oak flooring
From appropriated nooks to glass-encased rooms, each of these modern offices works a unique angle.
February 09, 2016
picnic-style table in renovated San Francisco house
From chandeliers to pendants, these designs make the dining room the most entertaining space in the house.
February 09, 2016
Midcentury house in Portland with iron colored facade and gold front door
From preserved masterworks to carefully updated time capsules, these homes have one thing in common (other than a healthy appreciation for everything Eames): the conviction that the '40s, '50s, and '60s were the most outstanding moments in American architecture.
February 09, 2016
Modern living room with furniture designed by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba
These oases by the sea, many done up in white, make stunning escapes.
February 08, 2016
A Philippe Starck standing lamp and an Eames chaise longue bracket the living room; two Lawrence Weiner prints hang behind a pair of Warren Platner chairs and a table purchased from a River Oaks estate sale; at far left of the room, a partial wall of new
Texas might have a big reputation, but these homes show the variety of shapes and sizes in the Lone Star State.
February 08, 2016
Montigo gas-burning fireplace in spacious living room.
Built atop the foundation of a flood-damaged home, this 3,000-square-foot Maryland home features vibrant furniture placed in front of stunning views of a nearby estuary.
February 08, 2016
Studio addition in Seattle
An architect couple sets out to transform a run-down property.
February 08, 2016
West Elm coffee table, custom Joybird sofa, and matching Jens Risom chairs in living room of Westchester renovation by Khanna Shultz.
Every Monday, @dwell and @designmilk invite fans and experts on Twitter to weigh in on trending topics in design.
February 08, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment living room vertical oak slats
For the modernists among us, these spare spaces are a dream come true.
February 08, 2016
The square fountain at the courtyard's center is a modern rendition of a very traditional feature in many Middle Eastern homes.
From a large gathering space for family or a tranquil sanctuary, these seven designs feature some very different takes on the ancient idea of a courtyard.
February 08, 2016
stdaluminum 021
Since windows and doors are such important aspects of your home, it’s always a good idea to take the time to evaluate how they fit within the lifestyle you want. Whether you’re in the middle of constructing a new home, or you’re considering replacing your current setup, there are multiple elements to consider when it comes time to make the final decisions. Milgard® Windows & Doors understands how vital these choices are to the well-being of your home and has developed ways to turn the process into a journey that can be just as enjoyable as it is fulfilling. Not sure where to start? We gathered some helpful insights from their team of experts to help us better understand what goes into the process of bringing your vision to life.
February 08, 2016
modern fire resistant green boulder loewen windows south facade triple planed low-e glass
These houses in Broncos Country prove modern design is alive in the Rocky Mountains.
February 08, 2016
french evolution paris daniel rozensztroch living area eames la chaise butterfly chair moroccan berber rug
A tastemaker brings his distinct vision to an industrial loft with a centuries-old pedigree.
February 07, 2016
senses touch products
The haptic impact can’t be underplayed. The tactility of a material—its temperature, its texture­—can make the difference between pleasure and discontent.
February 07, 2016
senses taste products
Ambience is a key ingredient to any meal—materials, textures, and mood all impart a certain flavor.
February 07, 2016
senses smell products
The nose knows: Though fleeting and immaterial, scent is the lifeblood of Proustian memories, both evoking and imprinting visceral associations.
February 06, 2016
design icon josef frank villa beer vienna
Josef Frank: Against Design, which runs through April 2016 at Vienna’s Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, is a comprehensive study of the prolific architect, designer, and author.
February 06, 2016
senses sound products
From an alarm to a symphony, audio frequencies hold the power to elicit an emotional call-and-response.
February 06, 2016
Italian Apline home with double-height walls on one facade.
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
February 05, 2016
A built-in sofa with Design Tex upholstery marks the boundary between the two-level addition and the bungalow. Leading up to the master bedroom, a perforated metal staircase, lit from above, casts a Sigmar Polke–like shadow grid on the concrete floor.
From a minimalist Walter Gropius design to a curving sculptural stair, these six stairways run the gamut.
February 05, 2016
distant structure lakeside prefab norway facade stones green roof
Dwell has traveled all over the world, from Tasmania to Indonesia, to report on modern houses.
February 05, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment master bedroom atrium
Get ready for a weekend of rest with these sleepy, little cocoons.
February 05, 2016
lamp show 99 cent plus gallery 0
At Brooklyn's 99¢ Plus gallery, 30 artists and designers re-imagine the lamp in an illuminating light show.
February 04, 2016
Hidden storage stairwell with raw brass hardware
Having ample space to stow items is a daily struggle—peep these modern homes for some ideas on maximizing your square footage.
February 04, 2016
modern fairhaven beach house blackbutt eucalyptus living room Patricia Urquiola sofa
Whether it's along a coast in Australia or the French Alps, wood provides a natural touch in these interiors.
February 04, 2016
Glass and steel sculpture in Printemps store of Paris.
In the Paris' venerable Printemps department store, two Toronto-based firms were tasked with enlivening a new atrium and creating a unique experience for visitors. YabuPushelberg, partnering with UUfie, designed this stunning steel "sail" embedded with vibrant dichroic glass.
February 04, 2016
Monochromatic Master Bedroom in Copenhagen Townhouse
Whether it's to maximize limited light or create a soothing interior, these five projects go white in a big way.
February 04, 2016
EQ3 Assembly quilt by Kenneth LaVallee
The new Assembly collection from EQ3 celebrates up-and-coming figures in Canadian design. Discover this newly appointed class, which debuted at Toronto's Interior Design Show, here.
February 03, 2016