Architects: Pacific Environments / Peter Eising & Lucy Gauntlett
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Project Managers: The Building Intelligence Group – Gareth Skirrow, Blair Wolfgram, Joe Holden
Engineers: Holmes Consulting – Chris MacKenzie & John Worth, Martin Feeney – Holmes Fire
Building Contractors: NZ Strong – Shane Brealey, Paddy Molloy, Megan Roberts; Citywide Construction Ltd – Jim Bellamy
Timber Fins: McIntosh Timber Laminates – Owen Griffiths, Sandy Sandiford
Lighting: ECC Lighting & Furniture – Renee Kelly
Project year: 2008-2009
Photographs: Lucy Gauntlett
It’s not often that a commission to design a treehouse is offered, so when Colenso BBDO – on behalf of Yellow Pages briefed Pacific Environments Architects for a ‘reality’ TV advert for an off-the-wall functioning restaurant, Pacific Environments jumped at the opportunity. Working alongside Tracey Collins and her team , the idea was to source all products and services through Yellow Pages listings (the book, online and mobile). It has paid us to be in Yellow – that’s how we were chosen and we are getting a great profile as a result.
PEL assisted project managers The Building Intelligence Group, Colenso BBDO and Yellow in the selection of the enormous Redwood tree on which the treehouse is to be built which is over 40m high and 1.7m diameter at the base, on a site north of Auckland.
The concept proved challenging and encompassed a range of consultants to get both Resource Consent, Building Consent and construction underway in a very limited time. We’ve never been involved in a project quite like this before!
The concept is driven by the ‘enchanted’ site which is raised above an open meadow and meandering stream on the edge of the woods.
The tree-house concept is reminiscent of childhood dreams and playtime, fairy stories of enchantment and imagination . It’s inspired through many forms found in nature -the chrysalis/cocoon protecting the emerging butterfly/moth, perhaps an onion/garlic clove form hung out to dry. It is also seen as a lantern, a beacon at night that simply glows yet during the day it might be a semi camouflaged growth, or a tree fort that provides an outlook and that offers refuge.The plan form also has loose similarities to a sea shell with the open ends spiralling to the centre .
It’s the treehouse we all dreamed of as children but could only do as an adult fantasy.
Access is via a 60m tree-top ‘accessible’ walkway -an adventure in itself.
The selected site and tree had to meet a myriad of functional requirements -18 seated people and waiting staff in relative comfort complete with a bar; gaining correct camera angles with associated light qualities for filming the adverts, web cam and stills, have unobstructed views into the valley and entrance to the site and structural soundness . The final selected tree is one of the larger trees on the site and sits above a steep part of the site which accentuates the tree’s height. Kitchen/catering facilities and toilets are at ground level.
The Architectural component embodies a simple oval form wrapped ‘organically’ around the trunk and structurally tied at top and bottom, with a circular plan that is split apart on the axis with the rear floor portion raised. This allows the approach from the rear via a playful tree-top walkway experience, slipping inside the exposed face of the pod and being enchanted by the juxtaposition of being in an enclosed space that is also quite ‘open’ and permeable to the treetop views. There is also a ‘Juliet’ deck opposite the entrance that looks down the valley.
The scale and form of the tree-house creates a memorable statement without dominating it’s setting. While it’s natural ‘organic’ form sits comfortably, the rhythm of the various materials retains it’s strong architectural statement. The verticality of the fins mimics the verticality of the redwoods and enable the building to naturally ‘blend’ into it’s setting, as though it were a natural growth.
It sits almost 10m wide and over 12m high, with the split-level floor sitting 10m off the ground. Timber trusses form the main structure. The curved fins are glue-laminated pine, plantation poplar has been used for the slats and redwood milled from the site used in the walkway balustrading. Openings are formed for windows by leaving spaces between the slats/fins that keeps the overall form yet affords a variety of openness for the views and light and closes down toward the rear. To loosen the regularity of the elements, steel is wrapped arbitrarily around the pod. Tying this up at the top and base has a sense of greater connection with the tree.
It is designed to be weather resistant using acrylic sheeting fixed to the roof under the fins with vertical roll-down café-style blinds within. Lighting is an important architectural component enhancing and changing the mood, with discreet lighting within the walkway and up-lighting within the tree house.
A team of consultants working alongside the architects includes fire and structural engineers (Holmes Consulting Group), town planners and aborists to meet functional and Building Code requirements as well as NZ Strong our builders.