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Home in the Trees

German architect Andreas Wenning makes treehouses, but these aren’t the rickety, makeshift constructions you remember from childhood. With his sleek, contemporary dwellings, Wenning has invented a whole new dream for life amongst the treetops.

Text—Mark Mann
Photos—Daniel Müller

Andreas Wenning never set out to become the world’s preeminent treehouse architect. At first, he just wanted to build one for himself, because, well, he liked the idea of hanging out in a nice space that also happened to be in a tree. His first, dubbed Treehouse Plendelhof, was exactly that: a cozy-yet-modern enclave, high up in the air in an attractive bit of forest.

Mounting that first sleek little cabin up among the branches was a revelation. Wenning, who’s based in Bremen, Germany, found that a treehouse brings the occupant much closer to nature than say, a cabin. The weather changes more intimately, the seasons pass more vividly, and the little birds and animals go about their business on full, unselfconscious display right in front of you, not knowing they are being observed.

Through his firm Baumraum, Wenning has gone on to create dozens of treehouses around the world. Some can be found in remote forests, while others are placed within the urban canopy. Some hang suspended from giant oaks; others are perched on stilts amid the dangling branches of a stand of hemlocks. Yet all possess an undeniable charm, coupled with a truly modern aesthetic.

Though there’s no way to know for sure where and when treehouses first developed—traditionally made of wood, they don’t tend to last ages—but it’s certain that they have ancient roots. For forest-dwelling people then and now, such as the Indonesian tribes in Papua, treehouses have always served a primary function of providing safety. They’re more protected from flooding, foraging animals, and enemies. That sense of security abides even in modern treehouses, even when the old threats no longer menace.

For Wenning, each treehouse must speak directly to the tree or trees that support it, and that dialogue can take the form of contrast or symbiosis. Even when stilts are employed for added support, the treehouse’s design should take into account the age and strength of the tree. When crafting these designs, Wenning studies the trees carefully, mindful of the surrounding environment and the trees’ potential future growth.

Most developers see trees as obstructions. Wenning sees them as existing structures to be incorporated, not destroyed.

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Instead of cutting them down, he makes the best use of their inherent strength and stability. An ethos of collaboration with nature is at the core of his unique mission and design aesthetic. Not all of his treehouses depend directly on trees for structural support; some are in the trees, not on them. These are designed to be elevated on load-bearing supports and incorporated into a wooded area, without removing any of the existing trees.

A treehouse occupies an interstitial space, Wenning has observed. It belongs neither to earth nor sky. Rather, a treehouse ushers us into the quiet, swaying world of the forest giants. Alone among the branches, it becomes easier to focus. (Monks have always loved them for meditation.) Among family and friends, time passes more gently. No surprise: It feels good to be together in a treehouse.

But Wenning’s modernist aerial dwelling aren’t that spacious. He likes them to be modest and concentrated. He’s called his treehouses “fantasy cocoons.” The German architect sees no need for a treehouse to be rustic for it to be comfy. His treehouses are streamlined and sophisticated, often made from steel and wood. Wenning often employs curved shapes to soften the effect. His designs are naturally contemporary, smart, and intuitive, like of course you’d put your home in a tree. It makes perfect sense.

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