A Tree­house Utopia

SLOW Magazine - - Contents - Text: Julie Gra­ham Im­ages © Antony Gib­bon

Since the 20th cen­tury, biomimicry has be­come a named, con­scious branch of in­ven­tion and de­sign that looks to the in­nate tech­nol­ogy found in na­ture for its in­spi­ra­tion. Mim­ick­ing form and de­sign found in na­ture, at its most ba­sic, biomimicry looks at and em­u­lates biological process sys­tems and mod­els of form to solve hu­man prob­lems. It analy­ses nat­u­ral pro­cesses, par­tic­u­larly ex­am­in­ing what makes them sus­tain­able, and in­te­grates th­ese pro­cesses into the en­vi­ron­ment.

A great ex­am­ple of biomimicry can be seen in the mag­nif­i­cent tree­house de­signs of Antony Gib­bon which have sparked in­ter­est all over the world due to their in­cred­i­ble shapes that mimic or­ganic nat­u­ral forms. At first glance, th­ese im­mense struc­tures which blend so beau­ti­fully into the en­vi­ron­ment in which they are de­signed, make one feel as though one has been trans­ported into a fairy-tale world, com­pletely in sync with na­ture and all its splen­dour.

Antony Gib­bon grew up in a small town in the United King­dom just out­side Liver­pool on the Wir­ral Penin­sula, over­look­ing the River Dee and the Welsh hills. The beauty of his sur­round­ings as a child cer­tainly played a role in his as­tute aware­ness of the en­vi­ron­ment, and con­trib­uted mas­sively to the driv­ing force be­hind his de­sire to use sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als in his de­signs wher­ever pos­si­ble. As a young boy, he used to build tree­houses and ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ent struc­tures that he could fash­ion out of wood. His hands-on ap­proach to his work and rev­er­ence for na­ture is some­thing that has grown with him into adult­hood and trans­lated into the mag­nif­i­cent struc­tures he de­signs to­day.

Gib­bon trav­els ex­ten­sively and con­tin­ues to draw in­spi­ra­tion wher­ever he goes. “Na­ture and dif­fer­ent cul­tures in­spire me the most – na­ture re­ally is the best de­signer we have,” he says. “I have al­ways been in­ter­ested in na­ture and or­ganic forms since a very young age. I’ve been for­tu­nate to travel to many places around the world in my youth, draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from us­ing dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als and creat­ing dif­fer­ent forms that mimic the en­vi­ron­ment in which they’re in. Dif­fer­ent cul­tures in­spire me too; the use of ma­te­ri­als to hand craft ob­jects is some­thing I re­ally ad­mire.”

Gib­bon’s sus­tain­able for­est dwelling con­cepts – and es­pe­cially his tree­house homes – are noth­ing short of ex­tra­or­di­nary. The four de­sign con­cepts of the tree­houses (The Nook, The Em­bryo, In­habit Tree House, and The Roost) are de­signed to be lived in or used as ho­tels, re­treats, of­fice spa­ces, or work­shops.

In­spired by the Na­tive Amer­i­can teepee struc­ture, The Nook com­prises of a wooden frame which is cov­ered in slat­ted wooden pan­els. It can be out­fit­ted with a bed, toi­let, and shower, and can ac­com­mo­date a desk and shut­ters. The wooden pan­els, an­gled to keep out the rain, are able to open in some

sec­tions, al­low­ing for nat­u­ral ven­ti­la­tion. Suit­able for dif­fi­cult ter­rain, The Nook can be built in forests, on slopes, and in coastal ar­eas – and can even float, thanks to the re­cy­cled con­tain­ers that serve as a pon­toon un­der­neath the struc­ture.

The Em­bryo, a cylin­dri­cal two-storey tree struc­ture, re­sem­bles an ex­ten­sion of the tree trunk – at­tached by us­ing a se­ries of braces that do not cause any dam­age to the tree – and re­in­forces Gib­bon’s no­tion that our homes should be an ex­ten­sion of na­ture. Ca­pa­ble of sleep­ing up to four peo­ple, The Em­bryo’s en­trance is through a hatch door which leads to the first floor with steps, which spi­ral up­wards on the in­ter­nal walls of the cylin­der, lead­ing to the sec­ond floor. “The Em­bryo de­rives its name from the early stages of de­vel­op­ment in na­ture, and how we need to re-ad­dress the way we live in to­day’s so­ci­ety that is more eco­log­i­cal and sim­pler way of liv­ing than con­sum­ing our Earth’s re­sources,” Gib­bon ex­plains.

Un­like the oth­ers, In­habit Tree­house (of which he has just com­pleted a mag­nif­i­cent project in New York) is built on stilts and is not de­pen­dent on a tree for sup­port, so can be in­stalled in a num­ber of set­tings. The raised struc­tures are ac­ces­si­ble by a lad­der that leads to a trap door un­der the dwelling – a fun el­e­ment for an adult tree­house! An­other lad­der in­side the struc­ture leads to a sus­pended se­condary sleep­ing area. Large win­dows cover en­tire walls of the tree­house and the geo­met­ric form, with two op­pos­ing walls set at slight an­gles to max­imise the amount of light that en­ters, also of­fer some ex­tra­or­di­nary views.

The Roost tree­house, un­de­ni­ably the most other-worldly of the lot, has been de­scribed as re­sem­bling a “dig­ni­fied tree­top res­i­dence” that ap­pears to be taken straight from the for­est homes of Loth­lórien in Lord of the Rings. The Roost tree­house is made up of a se­ries of pod-like cap­sules that en­close a cen­tral spi­ral stair­case which leads to an out­door plat­form high in the tree’s canopy, of­fer­ing spec­tac­u­lar views of the space it is con­structed in. All cap­sules are con­nected by stair­cases and the tree­house pro­vides in­te­rior space for sleep­ing with each cap­sule be­ing able to hold two peo­ple.

All struc­tures are avail­able without the need of trees for sup­port and can, in­stead, be sup­ported by a cen­tral pole. Gib­bon has thought of ev­ery­thing and his work is truly in­spi­ra­tional. His pas­sion for work­ing with na­ture and abid­ing by the time­less de­sign that is found in na­ture has trans­lated into some­thing quite ex­tra­or­di­nary. And, let’s be hon­est: No mat­ter our age, who doesn’t love the thrill of a tree­house?

Antony Gib­bon is an ar­chi­tect, fur­ni­ture de­signer, and in­te­rior de­signer. To view the full range of his in­cred­i­ble work, please visit www.antony­gib­bon­de­signs.com.

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