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Whole Trees Architecture

Updated on February 23, 2011

Thinking outside the box

Although green interior design is usually thought of as changing the interior of house to make it healthier for people, more energy and water efficient it is restrictive to think within the box of changing a structure to conform to LEED principles. Architecture is a key part of sustainable design. And architecture is all about going back to core principles and questioning how things can be done differently.

One of these questions is why building practices are so addicted to concrete and steel. These two products rely on mining, carbon intensive transport and other factory processes. Whole Trees Architecture and Construction started in 2007 is a company that is questioning this rationale. Since its inception the company has designed 35 structures.

Whole Tree Architecture

Whole Trees Architecture and Construction is a small company set up by architect Roald Gundersen and his wife Amelia Baxter that builds houses and garden structures made from whole trees. Instead of cutting down trees and sending them off to be stripped and milled into planks they design houses so the wood from a tree forms an integral part of the structure. For each project a tree is chosen from Gundersen’s 134 acre property. If necessary the branches are bent while the tree is living to make the angles required for the project. Then the tree is stripped of its bark and left standing to dry out. This saves on storage space, avoids wood rotting on the ground and reduces the weight of the timber by 30%. Once dried the tree is cut down and is used in its entirety to form the basic backbone of the house. Other materials used include recycled wooden pallets and straw bales for insulation.

The result is unique each time. No two trees are identical and no two houses built using this system are exactly alike. The interiors are healthy because hardwoods are allergen free. The carbon throughput of the building process is low because the tree is sourced locally and factory manufactured building materials are kept to a minimum.

Roald Gundersen

Costs and Benefits

Although much of the environmental problems in the world are partly connected to irresponsible logging Whole Trees Architecture is careful not to overuse the resources in his forest. Gundersen has compiled an inventory of every tree in his forest and carefully chooses trees for each project. He estimates he can make up to 15 new houses a year and still maintain a healthy forest. He also uses smaller trees such as black locust, ironwood and buckthorn that are normally overlooked by traditional commercial building companies because of their lack of timber. The costs for Whole Tree architecture are $120 per square foot for buildings and $40 for farm based buildings.

This is a great example of sustainable thinking leading to sustainable design and green interior design.

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