There is a fascinating piece about building houses using whole trees from the woods of Wisconsin in the New York Times today. Perhaps this is just another example of the NYT being late to pick up on a trend that has been around for a while, but it is still nice to see the promotion of an industry that seeks to use better natural materials. They have an interesting fact about a study on the use of whole trees:
According to research by the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, run by the USDA, a whole, unmilled tree can support 50 percent more weight than the largest piece of lumber milled from the same tree.
While the designs aren’t for everybody (it’s true, the world isn’t made up of wood elves), they manage to remain functional and attractive without becoming overwhelmingly about the trees themselves. Also I am totally envious of the architect/forester Roald Gundersen’s kid who no doubt has the best tree house of all time:
They talk a bit about Gundersen’s designs being passive solar structures which is kind of confusing and probably has less to do with the trees than with good design and properly placed windows to take advantage of the sun. Although they do talk about his incorporation of trees into his green house:
While I am completely enamored with the use of these whole trees I am left wondering about the specifics behind selecting trees. How do you check for rot? What about drying the wood? Unlike the standard 2×4 (with its accompanying spec sheet), how do you measure the engineering specifications of a free form aspen? I am sure all these questions can be answered with a simple phone call, but it still remains that using a naturally formed structure in a house brings in some uncertainties into the project.