Salon des Refusés
A dot that went for a walk
Kew Gardens Tree House Competition
Klee’s ‘ A line is a dot that went for a walk ’ gives us the in. We are the dot, and our walk is going out to come back in again, changed, repurposed or just later.
Kew Gardens is made for walking in curated nature, laid out for pleasure and learning, for shared nurture: of the trees and ours. Each tree is seen and felt in the round, presented in place, from without, from below, one amongst others. We walk alone together. We find our feet, the ground, the path, companions, our family. We walk with the trees, among trees. We find the trees in their settings, individually and in groups, arranged to be found, to be learned, to become familiar.
Our tree house isn’t exactly a house. It’s just a part of the line the dot is walking. It goes through the tree, not around it, into the tree and then away. Like a walk with others, it’s linear and sinuous. There are choices. One line is a stair up into the tree and a slide down. Another line walks through and under itself and through the tree too. It’s a shared loop. Shared with the tree. Animal and sustainable.
Moving with trees depends on shared characteristics: our position, shape, size, type, age, health. We have taken care to make our tree house naturally accessible. Gentle angles aid access up-and-over; the corresponding arch shapes ground-level alternatives, supporting accessible play. Seeing the timber as a loose part – structural and textural – diversifies its visual and haptic uses: a bridge, gateway, tunnel, slide, swing, an instrument, sculpture, a base for hide-and-seek, a shelter in rain or wind, a lookout, a cairn. Multiple uses, basic shared experience 4.8m high, 26m long, 1.2m wide. For here, this site, yet valid in all kinds of futures.
Our tree path uses the least amount of material to maximise opportunities for engagement: ~(12 x 3m x 0.1m) x 3 = 10.8m3 of CLT is used with almost no waste. This is an exemplary project in that it aims to show what its says and does, simply and obviously without extenuation. Its value comes from using simplicity to invite multiple readings – animal-like, bridge-like – and engagements – close, far, silent, loud, contemplative, playful – with the wood you’re in: the living-tree, the building-material tree, the supporting tree, the life-giving tree. Engagements to nurture shared values of caring for and being with nature.
Our tree path is unextraordinary. It’s just a stair up and a slide down with swings. It’s thin, conceptually and physically. It’s not exactly site-specific. Rather it’s easy street, easy bridge, easily drawn, easily made, built and moved. Universal, uncomplicated, child-like and anamorphic. The simple design needs only simple, robust connections, which can be unmade and remade without recourse to specialist knowledge or equipment. Easily moved and stored, with minimal maintenance needed; designed and built to meet the relevant safety standards. It would be well suited to playgrounds, community centres, woodlands, parks and schools. It’s temporary here, and permanent elsewhere.
Precise use of given resources minimises waste and creates a didactic up and down structure that’s fabrication is clearly readable: to look at and through use. Remaining very simple, the arch cleaves different spaces with their own qualities, to be enjoyed and used in different ways. Our tree bridge goes straight through Tree 2. This can be achieved without risk of damage to the tree. Off-site pre-fabrication of two discrete elements, the stair up and the slide down makes two integral self-contained structures, capable of transport and lifting without additional temporary framing. Each element can be lifted independently, either side of the tree, by mini-cranes, hiabs or fork lifts, situated at safe distances from the canopy and minimising disturbance to the tree’s base and roots zone. Each piece is then offered horizontally into position and jointed by operatives working directly from the tree or from the top landing of the stair section. Our deliberately simple, robust design works without perfect refinement, is made to be well used with minimal maintenance, easy to repair if necessary. The steps are generous, the slide’s angle is gentle. Sharp edges and corners easily designed out. Moveable and reusable, it also works in the rain.