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  • 07.22.09

Grow Your Own: Buildings Made From Living Trees

Three young German architects have created an entirely new sort of architecture, bending trees to their will.

Living Building

For decades, people have been growing outdoor furniture using the trees themselves. A trio of German architects has taken that several steps further: They’re designing entire structures using trees made to grow around a metal superstructure. They’ve already completed a few test buildings, including the bird-watching station pictured above. They’re now designing a new, 1,290-square-foot concert pavilion for downtown Stuttgart.

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The buildings start with a metal superstructure, erected at a test site on the grounds of the University of Stuttgart’s Institute of Basics in Modern
Architectural Design. Then, the architects–Ferdinand Ludwig, Oliver Storz and Hannes Schwertfeger–attach year-old willows to the scaffolding, bending them into shape. More trees are then grafted on, from root to trunk, so that they grow together. Over time, the growing trees take over the load-bearing duties. Finally, the supports can be removed and the entire rig can be moved to its final destination, where the floors can then be slotted into place.

Obviously, there are a number of complex adjustments that need to be made while the trees are being coaxed into place. To keep the trees alive, for example, the architects have designed “sap bypasses” to prevent the tree’s circulatory systems from being choked by the metal supports. Tree surgery is routinely performed, so that the trees don’t revert to mere shrubbery. And before they’re ever grafted to metal, the trees have to be stressed by computer-controlled winches attached to concrete blocks, in order to augment their natural strength. Think weightlifting for trees.

Read more about the project at Spiegel, and see more images of the designs below:

The beginning of the process, where trees are made to grow around a metal scaffold:

Living Building

A design for a walkway:

Living Building

One building currently in the works is a 26-foot tower slated to begin near Lake Constance in southern Germany
at the end of July:

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About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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