May 16, 2006 .There’s something primal about tree houses that enthralls children and returns adults to long lost afternoons filled with secret adventures. We’ve previously covered the exquisite designs of the English Treehouse designer-builders PearTree which include everything from custom-designs through two storey adult treehouses, home offices and even 30 seater conference suites (extensive image gallery of fabulous treehouses here) , and we’ve waxed lyrical about the Free Spirit Sphere, but this latest concept tree house from UK-based Design Studio Sybarite excited us to new levels. The company is developing a modular tree house concept which we think could become very popular. The ‘belly’ of the tree house accommodates undulating kinetic baffles that utilise wind power to generate electricity. The plan form also meanders to the extent that modular sections can be prefabricated so that the overall size can vary from a single bedroom house up to a five bedroom model. The prefabricated design can be installed on site within two weeks, is extremely lightweight, uses many recycled products, is part self-sustainable and low on maintenance. Sybarite has offices in Italy and China too – ring them up and tell them you want one (because we do). and make sure you check out the image library which has just been updated
The italicised segments of the following article are taken directly from Sybarite literature explaining the Project Tree House.
In 1997, a U.K. Department of Environment edict (John Grummer’s PPG7) insisted that houses can be built in the countryside only if they are of "outstanding architectural quality".
"An isolated new house in the countryside may also exceptionally be justified if it is clearly of the highest quality, is truly outstanding in terms of its architecture and landscape design, and would significantly enhance its immediate setting and wider surroundings. Proposals for such development would need to demonstrate that proper account had been taken of the defining characteristics of the local area, including local or regional building traditions and materials. This means that each generation would have the opportunity to add to the tradition of the Country House which has done so much to enhance the English countryside."
In other words, if it's good enough, normal restrictions do not apply. This very 'popular-at-the-time' statement was, according to most architects, a lifeline to the dreams and passions of those in pursuit of creating a perfect country retreat. But since Mr Gummer's edict very few contemporary country houses have been built.
This is not due to a shortage of potential cash-rich clients willing to spend for a better way of living but to a lack of suitable land available. Even planning authorities proved to be uncomfortable about having to judge what constitutes superlative architecture and found it easier just to say 'no'.
The innovative English country house has been almost extinct since the 1930's. Many observers believed the building type had come to its natural end with the Second World War and the meltdown of the traditional class structure.
The 1990's saw very few modern examples but there was a flicker of hope with one example designed in 1998 by architects Future Systems. The home, nicknamed the 'Teletubby House', looks like a space ship that has hit earth with such a force that it embedded itself in the cliff-top landscape of the Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales.
Today, the much-publicised 'Grafton New Hall' or 'Giant Starfish' near Chester, designed by the architects Ushida Findlay, heavily relies on acres of beautiful EnglishCountryside in order to spread it wings of over 2,200 square metres of accommodation. This design is far from the reach of the typical country home purchaser with needs of up to only 3 or 4 bedrooms. However, the outline planning permission granted for Grafton New Hall is an encouraging sign to others hoping to qualify under PPG7. But does a house have to be so large in order to qualify? The decisions of some planning authorities indicate that they think so, while PPG7 itself and statements by John Gummer also suggest that large houses are precisely what the legislators wanted to encourage. This has led to accusations of elitism and the current government to regard PPG7 as ‘inconsistent with the priority for affordable rural housing’.
But should size matter?
Size does matter. Size that is relative to the customer needs. The common demands for country homes are location, the views available and ultimately, if there is enough space to entertain friends and family. Naturally, the affordability of a new contemporary house has to be addressed as not every one can afford in excess of £10 million for Grafton New Hall.
The approach of this project has been directed towards achieving a design that has minimal impact upon its particular site while being extremely quick to erect, contextual within its countryside location and, most importantly, maximising the views for the home owner.
The design is primarily a flexible modular system focused around the sun path, i.e. how one enjoys daylight throughout a typical day. For example, the morning sun would be orientated through the kitchen, then on to the living space and finally enjoying a sunset in the bedroom. The house is designed to be elevated just above a natural tree line (typically 15m above ground level) and very much out of the view of the public but at the same time could be 'discovered' on a weekend country ramble.
The fluid organic lines of the design are intentional and visually less imposing very much like a helicopter floating in the sky, detached from the ground. The curvaceous undulating belly with its kinetic baffles shimmering in the wind are very much inspired by the senses experienced walking amongst woodland in strong winds. Gradating colour is introduced on the building’s surfaces like eye shadow around a woman's eye. This colour technique is also applied to the belly areas in order to emphasise the curving form of the exterior.
The propeller shaped plan is generated by repeating standard modules that are specifically designed in sections that are easily transportable. The concept of the system is also intended to be one of total flexibility to the extent that a two-bedroom module with two wing elements can be created as well as the typical four-bedroom plan with three wings. The system could potentially be adapted for very large 8 or 12 bedroom designs.
The design is also completely flexible to its location such that the home could just as easily be erected on the edge of steep mountain hill, within a forest valley or on a gentle slope within a countryside field. The preferred location is among a group of trees with the main advantage of the design being that it can be located on sites that would normally be impossible to construct without the felling of trees. Each location would be specifically selected and inserted between existing clusters of mature trees.
SCHEDULE OF ACCOMMODATION (typical three wing plan)
- · 300m2 (3230 sq.ft) of accommodation
· Living Room (seating 12 persons comfortably - can cater for large parties)
· Master Bedroom with ensuite and dressing room
· Large Double Bedroom with ensuite and dressing room
· Double Bedroom
· Single Bedroom
· Study Room
· Shared bathroom
· Separate W.C
· Utility Room / Laundry
· Pantry / Refrigeration
· Large open plan kitchen
· Flexible Dining Area for up to 12 + 6 persons
· Lift (accommodating up to 6 persons at one time)
· Roof terrace eating area (with dumb waiter to kitchen) for up to 12 persons
· Roof terrace grass relaxing area
· Roof terrace children's play area
· Optional roof terrace level Jacuzzi & Shower
The main body of the design is constructed from a steel reinforced GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) semi-monocoque system. These pre-fabricated transportable sections are supported on a tripod of steel column supports. The piled foundations that support the tripod legs are also specifically designed to avoid tree root damage and minimal ground surface impact. It is intended that the actual on-site erection time can be completed within four normal working weeks.
When we talk about energy, we tend to think of producing a huge amount in one place and distributing it. However, the energy requirements of a family house are relatively low. It is said that the total energy that human beings use in a year is 1/15,000 of the solar energy falling on the earth. Rather than relying on limited fossil fuels, which in turn produce pollution the solution to our energy demands is to use the solar and wind energy efficiently.
One of the principle environmental designs for the house utilises a series of kinetic baffles on the belly of each wing that are specifically designed to increase the air flow around and under the house. These baffles (lightweight aluminium blades) oscillate 24 hours a day (depending on wind speeds) and are linked directly to a series of batteries which, in turn, are fed through an inverter to produce an electric current of 240 volts.
When the batteries are fully charged, the controller switches the excessive electricity to a heating element in the hot water cylinder. It is anticipated that on an average day it is possible to produce enough electricity for hot water & lighting. On a very windy day enough additional electricity will be produced to run a washing machine cycle as well as vacuum cleaning. To back up the wind-generated power, a series of solar cells are placed around the perimeter of the roof that also feed back to the central system. It is envisaged that for a typical year the power consumption will be 70% selfsufficient.
The house is completely naturally ventilated. The baffles on the belly of the structure serve a double purpose in that they force the fresh air into a 'plenum' around the floor perimeter, which can be controlled through adjustable grilles in the small up stand around the floor edge. On a hot summers day the perimeter high level glazing is opened together with these floor vents so that cross ventilation is forced through the interior spaces with the hot air being naturally exhausted in a stack effect.
Saving water is essential to a sustainable lifestyle. Rainwater is collected around the perimeter at roof level and is filtered and stored within a large storage tank (4,000 litre capacity) located within the central core behind the staircase. This water will serve all toilet flushing, shower, and washing facilities.
Just as important to conserve energy is the need to clean the pollutants produced by our daily life. All drainage within the design is filtered through a series of soak away 'ponds' at ground level. The waste water from the house flows to an aerogated pool and then through a series of other ponds where plants such as water reeds, bulrushes, hyacinth, watercress and other weeds are able to thrive on the grey water whilst at the same time cleaning the polluted water before it returns into the natural ground water. Heating is supplied through an electric under floor heating system that utilises coils pre-wired into the GRP floor structure. Recycled insulation material is forced into the cavities between the perimeter GRP structure in the walls, floor and ceiling that aid summer cooling and prevent excess winter heat loss.
Another key environmental factor within the design is the 'smart glazing' where the glass is capable of being clear and colourless on a cold day with the ability to be switched to a tinted, heat reject state, on hot and glary days to keep out 95% of the summer Infra Red Radiation whilst at the same time maintaining the views from the interior. At a flick of a switch the glass can also become completely opaque through the use of electronic LCD within the glass construction.
Initial discussions and meetings with certain local authorities have generated overwhelming support from a number of districts including:
- Bath & North East Somerset District Council - Planning Services
North Wiltshire District Council - Planning Services
South Gloucestershire District Council - Planning Services