Could tree houses provide a solution to urban sprawl?

| February 20, 2014

What if ultra-modern tree houses were a way to mitigate the environmental impact of urban sprawl?

Many of us grew up dreaming of spending time in a tree house — or actually whiling away hours in one if you were lucky enough. But we typically think of tree houses as simply child’s play. A Denmark-based architecture student named Konrad Wòjcik thinks of tree houses as a sophisticated, forward-thinking potential solution for expanding urban areas.

Konrad Wòjcik has created conceptual renderings of tree houses. And by “tree houses,” we mean, literally, houses inspired by — and intended to blend in with — trees.

From Fast Co. Exist.

Konrad Wòjcik’s tree house. From Fast Co. Exist.

The design is intended to address a growing problem: many people are either forced out of core urban areas due to space or high housing costs, or they choose to leave because of noise or pollution. That displacement leads to urban sprawl, which can be devastating to the environment.

Wòjcik’s houses are shaped like trees and are “packed with every conceivable sustainable design element, located in the middle of a forest, but within biking distance to a city,” reports Adele Peters in Fast Company’s Co.Exist.

It might sound a little wacky, but it’s worth hearing Wòjcik out. “Looking at humans and their frequent lack of respect towards the natural environment, as an architect, I wanted to create something fresh, something that could provide not only shelter but also all necessary needs of present-day society,” he told Peters.

He describes his design as “fully functional” and targeted at “able-bodied people with an open mind.” An open mind would indeed be key for these pyramid-esque structures, which contain four tiny floors and could accommodate two people — or perhaps four who have limited personal boundaries.

Trees provided inspiration for more than just the shape of the houses (which, in case you’re wondering, do have a very narrow, trunk-ish base). The design includes a number of eco-friendly elements intended to mimic the natural ability of trees to clean the air, provide shelter and shade, and enrich the soil.

Wòjcik envisions one side covered in solar panels, with massive windows providing natural light and air circulation. Waste generated on-site would be turned into power via a biodigester, and a heat pump would draw energy from the ground.

The goal: a home completely free of carbon footprint. That means no cement or steel — every single piece of the house, right down to the furniture, “is made from fully reusable materials.

Now that’s thinking green.

Ideally, the homes will be built in a forest where they’ll blend in with real trees and be spaced far enough apart to provide privacy and seclusion.

So is this practical? Peters points out that many metro areas don’t have nearby woods that could accommodate this type of “neighborhood” — and, even for those that do, “only a tiny fraction of the population could be accommodated in a development with so few homes.”

The potential practical barriers don’t discourage Wòjcik. Apparently, his designs have already drawn global interest from potential buyers.

Turns out that tree house dream might come to fruition after all.

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Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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