It's been a few million years since humanity's ancestors came down from the trees, but maybe it's time to move back there. Luxury treehouses from the likes of Snøhetta and Mallinson are a good way to feel like you're getting back to nature without compromising creature comforts like saunas and luggage elevators. Now, a new architectural concept out of the University of Dundee is intended to make living among the trees a little greener, taking advantage of their natural cooling mechanisms to keep the house at just the right temperature.
The concept is the brainchild of Anthony Leung, a civil engineering lecturer at Dundee who wants to reduce the construction industry's reliance on non-renewable building materials, like concrete. His solution is an "eco-treehouse" built around a tree as a support column, to bear the weight of the house and its contents.
"Structurally speaking, a tree trunk of adequately large diameter would be strong and stiff against both compression and tension," says Leung in a press statement. "It can carry and then transmit floor loads to the foundation soil."
To keep the interior at a comfortable temperature, the floors would be made with insulating wooden slabs and the exterior walls covered in climbing plants. These features combine with the tree's natural metabolic processes that let heat dissipate through the leaves, to keep the building cool.
"Like human beings, plants are living materials that need to maintain their metabolism by regulating their 'body' water content and 'body' temperature," Leung tells New Atlas. "Plants do this by transpiration – an evaporation process that occurs mainly at the leaf surface via stomata (pores) to adjust and relieve environmental stresses. Evaporation brings energy away from leaves and causes cooling effects. This is why planting in urban cities might mitigate urban heat island effects. Borrowing this concept (and the power of nature), plus proper circulation systems installed, we are hoping that the green roofs and climbing plants on the exterior walls in the treehouse might regulate room temperature."
The canopy overhead would act like a natural umbrella to help protect the building from the elements, but the rainwater that does get through can be collected by the grass growing on the rooftop. This "green roof" can direct the run-off water into a mini treatment plant, where it can then be filtered and pumped back into the house. To complete the symbiotic relationship of the tree and its inhabitants, any organic waste generated by the household can be collected, filtered and delivered to the tree for nutrition.
"The point of developing this concept is to demonstrate how we can borrow the power of nature to create natural shelter for human beings in a modern, yet ecologically friendly way," Leung explains in a press release. "This is not a proposed building in a specific site but something that will hopefully add to the debate around construction techniques."
Source: University of Dundee
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