A True Homegrown Investment

Can’t afford to build a house? Grow one.

In keeping with this week’s theme of unique housing, I found Terreform.org, a nonprofit group dedicated to the preservation of ecology and the urban environment. Their pièce de résistance, among many other endeavors, is the pursuit of sustainable green development grown naturally.

The two architects spearheading the ‘Fab Tree Hab Treehouse’, Mitchell Joachim and Javier Arbona of the Smart Cities group of the MIT Media Lab, are working with Lara Gredem, an environmental engineer from MIT, to develop a house that grows itself.

The intention for these homes (and all other projects on the Terraform docket) is to create a food source for some organism in each stage of its life.

Their idea is organic in origin and execution. The project starts by staking a plywood structure into a tree and growing a house out of the tree itself around the plywood, using renewable resources to feed it. Once the tree intertwines around the basic structure, the original plywood form can be removed and reused to build another structure for another house, and so on.

The interior of the house is made of plaster, mud and other building materials–all natural and eco-friendly wherever possible. The idea originally included glass windows, but the designers are researching soy-originated transparent materials that can grow and expand as the physical structure grows inside the tree. A heat source for water and air would be provided by active solar hot water pipes which heat radiant flooring.

Joachim explains it by saying:

“Our dwelling is composed with 100% living nutrients. Here traditional anthropocentric doctrines are overturned and human life is subsumed within the terrestrial environs. Home, in this sense, becomes indistinct and fits itself symbiotically into the surrounding ecosystem.This home concept is intended to replace the outdated design solutions at Habitat for Humanity. Our goal was to propose a method to grow homes from native trees. This enables these new local dwellings to be a part of an absolutely green community. Pleaching is a method of weaving together tree branches to form living archways, lattices, or screens. Templates, cut from 3D computer files control the plant growth in the early stages.”

It all sounds great, but isn’t it faster to just build a house? How long will it take to grow one?

The easy answer is five years. Joachim is looking into a particular self-grafting plant, unique for its growth speed and intertwining roots and branches.

Two issues, raised by Mike Rollins, are that of zoning and maintenance. First, any permanent structure requires a building permit, and because these treehouses are too organic to be considered permanent settlements, they cannot be built using the same permits a traditional home requires.

Second, the houses would be less resilient against severe such as storms floods and high winds.
Joachim, Arbona and Gredim are all at work researching developing these homes en masse on a farm, then transplanting them to their permanent locations. All of this makes me imagine a world where sustainable development and pristine suburbia live happily ever after. Perhaps it’s not too far off.

*all photos are courtesy of Terreform.

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