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The High Life

Tired of being terrestrially housebound? Four homes go out on a limb and find their place in the trees.


“This was really a parameter-driven project,” explains Lukasz Kos, a Toronto-based designer and cofounder of the architecture firm Testroom. “That is, I had to let the trees decide how the tree house would be.” What the trees decided, apparently, was that they wanted a gracefully slender, Blade Runner–like elevator lodged between them. They also decided they didn’t want to be too mutilated in the process. Kos responded to their needs with the low-impact 4Treehouse, a lattice-frame structure that levitates above the forest floor of Lake Muskoka, Ontario, under the spell of some witchy architectural magic. He created this effect by suspending the two-ton, 410-square-foot tree house 20 feet above the ground with steel airline cables. With only one puncture hole in each of the four trunks into which the cable is anchored, the trees get away almost entirely unscathed, and the structure attains the visual effect of being suspended weightlessly in midair. At the base of the tree, a staircase rolls on casters upon two stone slabs, allowing occupants to enter and exit regardless of how much the tree house may be swaying or rocking in the wind. Solid plywood walls punctuated by a floor of red PVC constitute the “opaque” base story, which is largely protected from the outside elements. “The idea was to have the tree house open up as it gained elevation,” explains Kos. The second story is surrounded by a vertical lattice frame, allowing for breezes, air, and light to filter softly through walls while still establishing a visual perimeter between outside and inside space. At top, the tree house is completely penned in, a suspended patio with a ceiling of sky. Photo by Lukasz Kos.

Early artifacts show that hundreds of thousands of years ago, almost all human dwellings were suspended high within trees, away from scavenging animals, floods, and other dangers on the ground. Up there in the canopy, pre-Neanderthal humans would huddle together in tight circles, grunting and clicking, pawing at each other’s wooly coats, enchanting one another with dances of elfin magic and wizardry. 

Or at least this is what I used to daydream about up there, lolling away hot summer afternoons on the plywood floor of my childhood tree house. You see, it’s a different world up in the canopy, a world devoid of earth-bound distractions, where the imagination is free to run wild. It’s these qualities that have attracted a handful of new designers to reinvent the tree house, and in the process remind us of something our monkey-ancestors have known for a million years: Branches are the perfect place to hang out.

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