15 Brilliant Designs That Work Around Nature

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By Ethan Bodnar / Published by Dwell
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Instead of chopping down trees or cutting branches, many architects have come up with smart design solutions to avoid disturbing the land during construction.

On the contrary, they build around what Mother Nature has given them. Others base their design of a space around a resident tree or a new one they plant before construction. Take a look at this roundup of projects where creative solutions have honored the way trees grow naturally over time.

Courtesy of Nature by Anouk Vogel

Anouk Vogel's installation "Courtesy of Nature" is built around the natural environment in Quebec.

Anouk Vogel's installation "Courtesy of Nature" is built around the natural environment in Quebec.

Mark Word Design incorporates trees directly into the deck and seating area at the Lakeview Residence in Austin, Texas.

Mark Word Design incorporates trees directly into the deck and seating area at the Lakeview Residence in Austin, Texas.

Architect Jamie Darnell built the decking, of ipe, to accommodate a tree by the entrance to the garage.

Architect Jamie Darnell built the decking, of ipe, to accommodate a tree by the entrance to the garage.

Far Out Flora captures this thoughtful fence design she discovered in San Francisco's Marina District.

Far Out Flora captures this thoughtful fence design she discovered in San Francisco's Marina District.

Aidlin Darling took pains during construction to preserve the cypress trees that give the Great Highway House so much of its charm.

Aidlin Darling took pains during construction to preserve the cypress trees that give the Great Highway House so much of its charm.

Built around the twin trunks of a maple tree, the Campbells’ outdoor deck provides tranquil views of the lake and a chance for the family to spot roaming wildlife while enjoying their morning coffee. During warmer months, the wide space creates an ideal secondary dining room, shaded by the canopy of leaves overhead.

Built around the twin trunks of a maple tree, the Campbells’ outdoor deck provides tranquil views of the lake and a chance for the family to spot roaming wildlife while enjoying their morning coffee. During warmer months, the wide space creates an ideal secondary dining room, shaded by the canopy of leaves overhead.

Because the Japanese maple in the courtyard had to be planted before the ipe deck was laid, Kurath designed a small removable panel to allow access to the tree’s base. The Shozis can pull up the bit of decking to tend to the tree and replace it when they’re through. And because the boards line up perfectly, only the gardener need know it’s there.

Because the Japanese maple in the courtyard had to be planted before the ipe deck was laid, Kurath designed a small removable panel to allow access to the tree’s base. The Shozis can pull up the bit of decking to tend to the tree and replace it when they’re through. And because the boards line up perfectly, only the gardener need know it’s there.

To save the tree, Carpenter called in an arborist, who helped Carpenter and the Domineys nurse it back to health. Carpenter then built the parts of the pavilion around the tree, moved the foundation away from the roots, and used permeable concrete slabs so that water would properly drain into the ground.

To save the tree, Carpenter called in an arborist, who helped Carpenter and the Domineys nurse it back to health. Carpenter then built the parts of the pavilion around the tree, moved the foundation away from the roots, and used permeable concrete slabs so that water would properly drain into the ground.

Woodman’s Tree House is built using local materials where possible and includes traditional wooden craftsmanship throughout the interior. The structure stands on high stilts to minimize its effect on the land and all the existing trees are protected and maintained unharmed and untouched. 

Woodman’s Tree House is built using local materials where possible and includes traditional wooden craftsmanship throughout the interior. The structure stands on high stilts to minimize its effect on the land and all the existing trees are protected and maintained unharmed and untouched. 

In the basement of this tiny Dutch juice shop, the tree rests in a bucket of fertile soil and is connected to irrigation. 

In the basement of this tiny Dutch juice shop, the tree rests in a bucket of fertile soil and is connected to irrigation. 

Architecture firm Mithun designed the tree house so that it would tread lightly on the land. The firm originally considered prefabricating the entire structure offsite but, in the research process, concluded that craning large modules into place would potentially harm the canopy. A combination of a bolted-together prefab structure and site-built wood housing yielded the least intrusive construction option.

Architecture firm Mithun designed the tree house so that it would tread lightly on the land. The firm originally considered prefabricating the entire structure offsite but, in the research process, concluded that craning large modules into place would potentially harm the canopy. A combination of a bolted-together prefab structure and site-built wood housing yielded the least intrusive construction option.

The central oak tree sprouts out of the rear deck. The atrium’s array of windows draw the eye in the tree’s direction. The wood cladding of the single-story wings provide a pleasant contrast with the central volume’s stucco finish.

The central oak tree sprouts out of the rear deck. The atrium’s array of windows draw the eye in the tree’s direction. The wood cladding of the single-story wings provide a pleasant contrast with the central volume’s stucco finish.

The family enjoys a shared meal in the ground floor alleyway, which serves as a gathering place, dining area, and playground. Native trees are planted on the ground floor as well as on balconies and in the steel frames, covering the home with plants and shifting the natural world inside.

The family enjoys a shared meal in the ground floor alleyway, which serves as a gathering place, dining area, and playground. Native trees are planted on the ground floor as well as on balconies and in the steel frames, covering the home with plants and shifting the natural world inside.

This tree house that’s available to rent through Airbnb in Aptos, California, sits next to a Redwood State Forest and was built seamlessly into the local trees.

This tree house that’s available to rent through Airbnb in Aptos, California, sits next to a Redwood State Forest and was built seamlessly into the local trees.

Landscape architectural studio Terremoto cares for this tree by building a support that will allow it to continue growing in the direction it's going.

Landscape architectural studio Terremoto cares for this tree by building a support that will allow it to continue growing in the direction it's going.