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Whole Trees Architecture

Whole Trees Architecture

Green interior design should not be just about changing the interiors of already existing structures to make them healthier for people, more energy and water efficient and more environmentally friendly. Sometimes it is necessary to re-examine basic principles.

Denise Thorton

Denise Thorton

That is just what a small company in America called Whole Trees Architecture and Construction has done. They have challenged the notion that buildings need to be made from steel, concrete and factory milled wood. Instead architect Roald Gundersen prefers to use trees taken from his 134 acre property in Stoddard.

He carefully chooses a tree for each project then his team strips the bark off the tree and allows it to dry standing. This reduces the weight by a third and prevents the tree rotting while lying on the ground. Once dried, the tree is chopped down. Then the whole tree is used an integral part of the building.

Whole Tree Architecture eschews sending timber away to be milled into planks. The philosophy is why build out of matchsticks when you can use the shape of the whole tree to form the structure of a building?

natural homeOther materials used for building include recycled wooden pallets and straw bales for insulation. The whole process of building is kept as localized as possible to cut down on carbon intensive transportation.

So far Whole Tree Architecture has built 35 structures. Costs for this type of innovative construction are about $120 per square foot for a building and $40 for a farm building such as a greenhouse.

Roald Gundersen has taken a detailed inventory of every tree in his forest and estimates that using his 135 acres in a responsible manner he can make up to 15 structures a year from the timber in the forest without impacting on the health of the forest. He often uses trees traditionally overlooked for construction because they are too small such as ironwood, black locust and buckthorn.

Because he chooses an individual tree for each project it is a matter of being inspired by the tree when designing the structure. Roald often bends the living tree into shapes that will form an integral part of the construction.

In his own words: “We can design something around a tree and use the wisdom of the forest.”

It is this type of original thinking that will help us move away from carbon intensive and wasteful industrial practices to a more holistic approach to architecture and interior design that embraces the uniqueness of precious raw materials and that better adapts buildings to their locale. Just as every tree is different, so should our homes be unique. This is the wisdom of the forest.

Visualizing Whole Trees