Most treehouses, whether they’re simple backyard platforms or tiny homes where people live full-time, are made by whacking nails into the side of a tree. But architects decided to take an approach that’s a little more tree-friendly in this design for a new resort in an ecological reserve: Each treehouse is suspended in midair from a simple collar that lets the supporting tree keep growing.
The idea came from a trip one of the architects had taken to Japan, where he saw trees supported with wires to protect their branches from heavy snow in the winter. "It was something that always stuck in my mind," says Tye Farrow, a senior partner at Farrow Partnership Architects. "I sort of translated it over and said, why don’t we use the natural mast of the tree and bring cables to support the treehouse so that construction won’t damage the tree itself?"'
Inside the open-air treehouse, the design has everything you’d find in a roomy hotel suite—a bedroom, bathroom, and a living room with lounge chairs. But the view's a little different from the typical hotel: The first treehouses will be built in the middle of a forest in a national park near Toronto, and though there will be 12 of the villas built in the reserve, each will be far enough from the others that visitors will see nothing but trees.
"You’ll have nobody else around you," Farrow says. "And once you’re inside, there’s sort of a drawbridge or ladder that comes out of the floor, and you have the ability to pull up the drawbridge so that you’re on your own."
The treehouse, taking inspiration from the forest surrounding it, is shaped like a "maple key," the small winged seed pods that spiral down from maple trees. The construction borrows some ideas from shipbuilding techniques to make a lightweight, strong structure from locally harvested wood.
Each treehouse will be powered by solar panels and uses a composting toilet and a graywater shower that feeds water back into the forest. A self-cleaning titanium fabric canopy keeps rain and dirt out of the room, while letting light inside. Though the open-air structures will probably mostly be used in warmer weather, the architects say they could also work for semi-chilly winter stays, a little like an ice hotel.
All of the pieces can be built offsite and quickly installed. "In the wintertime, when everything’s frozen and dormant, we could bring these in on a truck, pull it up to the tree, attach everything, and then we’re done," Farrow explains. "From the standpoint of damaging the environment it’s next to nil."
Engineering the design has taken time, and the first treehouses probably won't be installed for a couple of years. But Farrow says he's already getting orders for more from people around the world. "It’s extraordinary how this structure has resonated deeply with people. I think people want to get back into the forest."