The new Yellow Treehouse Restaurant by New Zealand based Pacific Environments Architects Ltd. (PEL) is a stunning architectural feat perched high above a redwood first. Appearing for all the world like an enormous chrysalis grafted onto a 40-meter-high redwood tree, the project is constructed of plantation poplar slats, redwood balustrading milled at the site, and makes extensive use of natural lighting throughout.
When approached by the Yellow Pages to design a treehouse, PEL jumped at the chance. “The tree-house concept is reminiscent of childhood dreams and playtime, fairy stories of enchantment and imagination,” say PEL. “It’s the treehouse we all dreamed of as children but could only do as an adult fantasy.” The project is indeed magical, located on a rise near the edge of a wood overlooking a stream. The eighteen seat cafe—10m wide and 12m high, with kitchen and lavatories on the ground—is sure to be a hit, but sustainability questions remain.
While we love the organic design of the treehouse and applaud its unique integration into the landscape, we wonder just how ‘green’ the project really is. Yes, glulam beams are often a great, renewable choice for green building with less waste and a smaller carbon footprint than steel or concrete. And when building with wood, local harvesting and milling produces the smallest footprint possible. With architectural merits like these, what’s to complain about?
The question is an ongoing architect’s dilemma; is a client’s political, ethical, religious and/or environmental affiliation important? The Yellow Pages is a case-in-point. The treehouse project is part of a large-scale marketing effort by Yellow Pages to promote their services. The campaign includes a spokes-model, a blog, live webcam, contests, and more. Nothing wrong with a little publicity, right?
However, every year in the United States alone 500 million directories are printed—enough for nearly 2 books for every person in the country—that’s 9 million trees harvested, 1.6 billion pounds of paper consumed, 7.2 million barrels of oil spent in processing, and so on. The E.P.A. estimates that directories account for up to 5% of total landfill waste. Should this make a difference to an architect? We think it should. What do you think?