Gallery: How to Grow Your Own Treehouse

The "eschenhaus" project was started in 1993, when 1350 European ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior) were planted to create the house's framework. The house now boasts 5 rooms around a central courtyard, all interconnected.

Photo: Richard Reames, Arborsmith

There are houses built in trees and then there are treehouses. Last year, we had one of our first encounters with a home literally made from trees, using the art of weaving (and sometimes grafting) trees together to form structures — a practice ecological designer, Richard Reames, called “Arcorsculpture.” The Fab Tree Hab was one of the design entries for the Index: awards, emerging from the genius of a crew including MIT architect Mitchell Joachim and our friend, Javier Arbona of Archinect. The project description emphasized consideration of whole systems (and ecosystems) in creating a truly sustainable built environment, rather than a piecemeal approach that could yield uncertain longterm outcomes.

This is not exactly garden variety as building strategies go, but it’s certainly among the most ornate, natural, and “green.” German landscape architect, Rudolf Doernach, used techniques like this in what he broadly called “biotecture” or “agritecture.” Like permaculture, these methods are set up to be largely self-sustaining, meaning that once the initial planting and early training of the branches is complete, the structures continue to grow on their own, requiring minimal external energy while providing maximum agricultural yield (as in the Fab Tree Hab, which is meant to provide food for the inhabitants). Permaculture is also about inclusion, accessibility, and mutual service between humans and the natural world. With proper knowledge, you should be able to grow your own house!

As the Australian Rainforest Information Centre points out, these are the ultimate in low-cost, low-maintenance, zero-energy homes:

“Doernach’s creations produce incredible savings compared to inert construction/insulation materials and have great potential for employment, given that say, 10 million homes have 100,000 hectares of plantable surface suitable for food cultivation. Insulation, energy-savings, noise-reduction, dust suppression, carbon dioxide conversion, oxygen production and psychological benefits are all positive by-products of planted walls.”

Richard Reames and Konstantin Kirsch have both explored the self-growing treehouse with the Treedome project, designing latticeworks of tree branches and growing them into cylindrical, multi-room dwellings which become fully-enclosed botanical domes. Fruit and other foods grow on the roof and walls, and the waste generated by the inhabitants becomes nourishment for the structure (a closed-loop system in which, as Bill McDonough says, waste=food).

Irish Architect, Urban Planner, Permaculture Designer and Ecologist, Declan Kennedy, presented a paper and lecture for the 1996 International Permaculture Conference in Australia on “designing for a sustainable future,” which includes excellent history and analysis about the evolution of ecological architecture.

“If, until the mid-90s, planners were satisfied with achieving an optimal combination of outside and self-generated supply and disposal with water, energy and the necessary materials, current innovation aims higher still: zero-energy buildings are well on the way to becoming “mega-out.””

“What we are aiming at now are buildings that produce more energy than they consume – that is really designing for sustainability. Water-saving technologies should make way for self-contained water cycles, or failing that, wastewater-free buildings which produce compost and “industrial water,” and green spaces that produce fresh food without requiring much input – thus becoming edible parks. The emphasis is not so much on self-sufficiency as on sustainable husbandry, orienting one’s production and consumption on the carrying capacity of the land.”

“If energy, water, wastewater and refuse disposal rates continue to climb as they have over the past few years, every project which manages to lower running costs will become increasingly economically attractive in the future. “Non-ecological living” will become more expensive, be it food, cars or buildings. The motto is “using together instead of consuming individually.” A real opportunity for the way ahead lies in the plummeting costs of information technology and in direct links between groups with similar goals through global communication networks. These options will allow us not only to exchange information more cheaply and quickly, but also help us locate the right car, bicycle or building at the right time, in the right place and at the right price.”

And this is the crux of modern ecological architecture. Rather than referencing a time before computer-generated building plans, industrial mass production, and smart home technology, ecological architecture can now embrace these advancements while staying true to a whole-systems approach to design.

By placing as much value on the services nature offers as those bestowed upon us by high-tech software and gadgetry, we optimize our design palette and gain utmost variation, flexibility, and sustainability for the future of the built environment. Product service systems and digitally networked communities thus become a part of the picture of a whole-systems lifestyle.

Most of us don’t live in houses built from trees; they generally reside in our ideas of elven fairy tales or back-to-nature die-hards. But one look at the Fab Tree Hab model makes it clear that there is an ecological architecture for the 21st century and beyond – one that draws on the intelligence of ancient practices, uses the tools of today, and looks forward toward the challenges and possibilities that lie ahead.

+ Treedome


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  1. Dave Stutzman February 11, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    I will be starting my first attempt this year as soon as the snow melts. Hope to get pictures available asap.

  2. In Vitro Meat Habitat i... July 9, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    […] waxed lyrical about botanical walls, green roofs and living treehouses on Inhabitat for years – is the next logical step a home made from animal tissue? Mitchell […]

  3. piet August 20, 2008 at 5:10 am

    I just listened to Paul Laffoley rap about his decade old plans for growing houses but he mentions some ridiculous turn over time i do not understand (yet): 3 months, maybe that is the maintenance interval or something …. enjoy

    inside scoop on outside culture Dan Winter needs to listen into the 7th minute of this (58 minute long look at a longhaired longface keeping his hand on a pile of books and nodding to what PL says).

    right into the 9th minute i lose track of his opposing archimedan with logarhytmic, golden mean spirals.

    Into the 10 minute the man starts leafing through the fattest book in front of him while Paul rambles on about Kaballah.

    So far, for me, nobody beats this:

  4. liebana June 8, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Madrid really has become Europe\’s #1 city of dynamic and progressive architecture.

  5. ana handley September 1, 2007 at 1:42 am

    hey fantastic idea, i’m gonna do it! another amazing thing plants can do for us. getting closer to becoming a nonconsumer yay


  6. Jess August 22, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    Just a citation note – your second image comes from artist Patrick Dougherty (

  7. oscar June 6, 2007 at 8:37 pm

    If you know who is interested to by a large piece of land in the hearth of Argentinian’s mountains, ( about 450.000 acres) plenty of valleys, rivers, lagoons, minerals etc. The place is between Mendoza and San Juan Provinces. please feel free to be in touch with me

    Best Regards

  8. naturegift January 24, 2007 at 8:37 pm

    I find it really interesting. I am eager to kow “How to prevent rain and wind from getting into the house? And what is used to make the floor of the house?”

  9. Orly Despacio December 31, 2006 at 3:19 pm

    I whole heartedly support the idea of this sustainable “living room”. It’s great to see such outside the box thinking when everyone seems content with using bamboo floors and calling it sustainable. I would love to see a follow-up, or just more info coming soon??! I like as a reference site, and a great place to start learning about this art?/development idea. Two great books, How to Grow a Chair, and Arborsculpture Solutions For a Small Planet are available on that website.
    Keep Growing,
    Orly Despacio

  10. Henry Kubicki October 22, 2006 at 5:51 pm

    Grow your own treehome. Terrific Idea! Love it!

    Hmmm? ? ?

    What is to be done about about ants and termites that live on and in the trees to keep them from getting into and destroying the home enviroment without hurting the trees?

    Henry Kubicki

  11. Negdub August 19, 2006 at 5:21 am

    You need to read a fantasy novel called “Son of the Tree” by Jack Vance. Maybe he wrote it in response to reading about pleaching.

  12. iban June 16, 2006 at 9:39 am

    Very cool. For the world tour on tree sculpting, see also

    Also check out the newsletter and the book on the topic mentioned there.

  13. Dan Malec-Kosak June 14, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    Saw this on “That’s Incredible” TV show in the ’80s, only a person had made a playground jungle gym with them!

    Maybe this won’t keep the rain out, or have a place to plug in a computer, but it might make a really cool GARAGE or SHED, particularly if the local zoning department won’t permit one BUILT somewhere. Just GROW ONE!

  14. Julie Niemeyer June 13, 2006 at 10:14 pm

    I must agree whole heartedly with Mr. Dutton….Best piece of information to date. Useful. I do get tired of recycled junk as art.

  15. Roger Dutton June 13, 2006 at 5:40 pm

    This is the most interesting piece of information I have received to date! I don’t need to know how to wrap wire around a bottle or spend large wedges of “hard earned” on faddy trash. This is something I have never seen or heard of and I want to know more! Nature designs the beauty, we should simply use that to our advantage not just for more profit.
    Thank you very much.
    Roger Dutton

  16. Jaggae June 13, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    Wow! I really like this idea. Maybe not for me to live permanently but i think my bunnies will love it! Heehee! However, if developed into that illustration, it will sure make a cozy house. Reminds me of Gummi Bears! Y’know…bouncing here and there and everywhere?!

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