Houses Made from Living Trees

This is my favorite housing concept of all – living houses. It uses the age-old technique of “pleaching,” which involves weaving saplings (preferably started as cuttings from a single parent tree) into whatever shape you want. Using a species of tree that is inosculate, or self-grafting, branches from different saplings can then be grown right into each other, thus connecting the structure. In this way, a complete framework can be made by planting the saplings in the outer footprint of the house’s exterior walls and then weaving them together as they grow up, eventually forming what amounts to a large “hollow tree.” As the branches grow together at the top, the interior becomes sealed against the elements and creates a cozy room which can then be floored with stone or other material. Doors and windows can either be woven into the structure as it grows, or cut into it later.

Just think of the value of such a “structure.” It could last for hundreds of years, requiring virtually no “repair” since it would always be growing and repairing itself. And if made from a long-lived species such as Ficus benghalensis (the Indian banyan tree), your house could grow as large as you want it, and last for not just generations, but thousands of years!

If your property were large enough, you and your heirs could keep on adding “rooms” indefinitely, your house becoming a forest unto itself. And of course parts of the dwelling could also be above ground, like the famous Swiss Family Robinson treehouse of fiction.

Of course, there will be certain hurdles to be overcome in order to live in such a house. First, it could be difficult to keep troublesome insects out of your living areas (but there are beautiful, modern-style houses in Costa Rica and elsewhere in the tropics whose living areas are essentially open to the outside, with no screens on the windows, and people live very comfortably in them nonetheless). Secondly, there’s a possibility that insects such as termites could eat your home, or at least the dead wood lining the inside walls. But perhaps one could stave that off by varnishing the interior walls with a substance that would be offensive to termites.

According to Mark Primack, in an online article on pleaching, in areas of Medieval Europe that were seasonally flooded, inosculate, water-tolerant trees were planted in a grid fashion, then as they grew, woven together in such a fashion as to create platforms upon which planks were placed and huts erected, “eight or ten feet above the seasonal flooding level”. In this way, the dwellings were built upon a living platform which would replenish itself and not be in constant need of repair from sitting in water for long periods of time. Clever, don’t you think?

And to me, regardless of the exact application, the excitement of living inside any house that is also truly alive would probably more than make up for whatever inconveniences were connected with the experience.

It certainly seems worth a try!


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