brilliant projects heretofore unpublished: tree museum

This is a project I designed a zillion years ago as an entry in a student design competition sponsored by the ACSA and the American Wood Council. My friend Derek recently sent me THIS link to an amazing project by Swedish architecture firm Visiondivision. It's an actual, real-life, built version (called "Chop Stick") of something I was thinking of so many years ago. There are plenty of differences between the two projects, but seeing a giant tree actually supported in the air was a thrill for me, and reminded me (and Derek) of my project, which of course was never realized.

My project was part of a semester long vertical studio during my third year of architecture school. Called "A Tree Museum", the basic program of the competition was this:

"The challenge is not only to design a "Tree Museum" but to address the total integration of environmental issues, energy and natural resources within the museum. You must also create a sensitive house for one of man's most precious gifts in a museum setting which will be ecologically sensitive and provide educational benefits to its visitors.

The museum is to be located on the edge of a rural town, near a river, not far from a city. This small town is experiencing many ecological difficulties as well as being in a state of economic despair. This town as been fortunate enough to receive funding for the "Tree Museum". The town will now have an opportunity to create its own identity and also utilize the museum as a source of financial revitalization and a place of education and reflection."

I remember I was sitting at my desk in the top floor studio one night waiting for my boyfriend to pick me up when my concept appeared out of nowhere. I would make a building that could house a tree laid on its side up above the viewer's head. There would be be a place to get up close to observe and inspect the tree on an upper level, but the main focus would be on inhabiting the space below a tree that had been lain on its side. 

Conceptual sketch, Feb. 1991

This is the initial sketch. It shows a cross section through the suspended or supported tree lying on its side. The dark center part is the tree trunk, and you would be able to walk underneath it.

Our studio chose a site along the Hudson River in upstate New York. As my design developed, I ended up situating my museum partially overhanging the bank of the river. I decided to make the ends of the museum open and the floor of the museum a metal grate, so that as parts of the tree decayed they would make their way back into the river. Safety codes be damned!

Again, this was only conceptual and never built, and didn't win the competition either. But it's one of my favorite projects from school, certainly one of my most memorable. Maybe if I had used less of a brutalist approach to the design and a more refined representation of the tree the project would've been noticed. Or if a had hung a few swings from it, like Visiondivision did. That would've been brilliant.

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