Here’s an idea for environmentally friendly, carbon-absorbing architecture and design: structures and sculptures built with living trees.
A concept known as tree shaping, the idea is based on bending and sometimes grafting together young trees to form useful shapes and structures such as stools, tables, benches and even houses. One of the earliest known practitioners of the craft was an American named John Krubsack, who harvested his grown chair in 1914. In some cultures, the idea goes even further, by centuries, back.
Today, a number of people and companies are promoting tree shaping as a green way to create functional, carbon-sequestering items and homes. Among the designs created with living trees:
Briton Christopher Cattle calls his designs “grown furniture” and says, “Growing furniture isn’t going to save the planet, but it can show that it’s possible to create genuinely useful things without adding to the pollution that industry inevitably seems to produce.”
“Arbosculptor” Richard Reames not only creates a variety of items using living trees, but has written two books on the subject, including Arborsculpture: Solutions for a Small Planet. Among the living structures he highlights on his Website, Arborsmith Studios, is a grown gazebo located in a park on Okinawa.
Australians Peter Cook and Becky Northey call their art “Pooktre” and have used it to create everything from chairs and tables to mirror frames and tree people ideal for children to climb on. They also commission designs and help other people craft their own pieces of tree sculptures.
Terrefuge Designers Mitchell Joachim, Lara Greden, Javier Arbona came up with the idea for a 100-per cent living dwelling called the Fab Tree Hab. They envision their designs as a more ecological alternative to the types of houses built by organisations like Habitat for Humanity.
The War-Khasis of northeast India take advantage of the native Ficus elastica’s penchant for developing secondary roots higher up the trunk by training the roots to grow out straight over rivers and streams. Over a period of 10 to 15 years, the roots grow long enough to cross the river, take root in soil on the other side and grow thick and strong enough to support as many as 50 people. Some of the region’s root bridges, which actually grow stronger over time, are believed to be more than 500 years old.
Plantware, an Israeli group of scientists, horticulturists and designers, has patented its technique for shaping ficus tree roots into a wide variety of shapes that are functional and often whimsical. Among their creations: living coat racks, toilet-paper holders, towel racks, fruit bowls, street lights and benches.