An Atypical Tree House

An Atypical Tree House

By J. Michael Welton
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.

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.

The tree house is perched on a hill that offers canyon vistas and views of downtown L. A. and the Getty Museum.


A clerestory around the perimeter of the butterfly roof gives an illusion that the roof floats over the box of the tree house.

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.

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.

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

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 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.

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.

Metaphorically, architect Chris Kempel said, the Kynar-painted steel columns are trees. "It was like taking a box and poking it with chopsticks."

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 outdoor shower below the tree house was shaped and formed from concrete to be a truly private experience.

Large floor-to-ceiling windows and doors provide abundant natural light and ventilation.


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