Even for the most austere person who doesn’t need lavish, exotic, or elaborate surroundings, there is something fascinating about treehouses. Not the kind that are every kid’s dream and every parent’s bad trip. If you were a kid who grew up in neighborhoods with lots of yard flora, including trees, you may have dreamed of treehouses with television (and later internet), lavish surroundings, and maybe even full automation. What you usually ended up installing in your trees was a glorified wooden box that didn’t offer as much to do, or as much protection from the elements, as you idealized.
But Google “high-tech treehouses” and you’ll go down a proverbial rabbit hole–a rabbit hole of trees. Far from being exclusively high-tech, these are simultaneously high- and low- tech beauties, utilizing a little bit of permaculture and a lot of technology. They’re also a cousin of the well-designed tiny house. In this instance, the tree structures reflect the tiny house ethos, the idea that you can pack a lot of beauty in a simple and small design—plus you can do it in a tree.
In a way, it’s a return to our roots (pardon the pun). Humans may have lived in trees until about 40,000 years ago. There’s a theory that these modified “nests” were inherited by humans from prehistoric great apes. Now, they are shangri-la for the creative set, often brilliant combinations of modest and enriched, with some of the most creative architecture we’ve ever seen. And these aren’t for kids—or at least not just for kids (some of them have great kid-spaces). Here are some notable places to research the potential of tree platform structures:
A 3D-Scanned Japanese Tree-Mansion
Kusukusu was built by Japanese professional treehouse creator Takashi Kobayashi, who has built over 120 treehouses over the past two decades. Kobayashi’s team first 3D-scanned hundreds of points on the trees in order to create a steel trellis meant to “thread” through the entire wide lot of them. Once a skeleton was built, the team used steel and wood, filled in spaces with glass, added elaborate stairways to connect different levels and paths of the tree, then garnished the whole thing with beautiful wooden decks, complete with tables and chairs. The finished product is a multi-tree structure that reminds us more of a cruise ship than a treehouse.
A Retro-Futuristic Treetop Escape
Portola Valley in California is home to this structure, and there’s a great podcast episode about it here. Described as a “kid-friendly hi tech treehouse” with a “midcentury modern aesthetic,” you can see a shorter video of it on the same page. Natural formed posts supplement the otherwise minimal support of the tree. There’s a large bi-level living area inside. It’s a family house for sure. Metal-roofed, good polished wood and paneling, a covered patio/balcony, all extremely well-lit and surrounded by taller trees, this is the stuff that tree-dreams are made of.
Volcano Cone Houses and Endless Forms and Ideas
Insider.com has a list of 35 “drop-dead gorgeous” tree structures. One, Bisate Lodge in Rwanda, was built in the eroded cone of a long inactive volcano. Its structure is snake-like, connecting six independent treehouses that look kind of like nests. Each has its own fireplace and suite. In France, there’s a tree castle with a jacuzzi. In Atlanta, an urban garden AirBnB treehouse.
If nothing else, these beauties demonstrate that, in the event of mass flooding or other apocalyptic scenarios that preclude ground living, there will be some places we can go, provided we don’t also run out of trees.