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23 Jul 2015

Video: Rory Harmer on treehouses & green urban spaces

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Category: Architecture

Dalston-based architecture practice Tate Harmer has designed a temporary workspace in a tree in Hoxton Square, London, where up to eight people can book desk space amid the foliage.

The unusual project was created together with artists Natalie Jeremijenko and Shuster + Moseley, and briefing architect Gensler, as part of Park Hack, an initiative by Groundwork, Artsadmin and the London Borough of Hackney to raise money for local parks by diversifying their use. Incredibly, the annual budget for renovating Hoxton Square is currently £350; this project aims to raise around £20,000.

Tate Harmer was given just eight weeks to create a place where “people can work but also enjoy the environment”, explains practice co-founder Rory Harmer. “The concept is based on a seed pod,” he continues, “so the whole structure is one big skeleton.” This is built from a loop of “ribs” made from Richlite – a composite material comprising 50% recycled paper, which is highly durable, doesn’t weather, and can be CNC-cut.

This meant the structure could be produced as a kit of parts and assembled in three weeks “like a big jigsaw puzzle”, says Harmer. In between the ribs are semi-transparent polycarbonate panels, which are interchangeable and could be replaced by something warmer in the winter months (the TREExOFFICE is here until December). On top a transparent plastic pillow roof, similar to those on the Eden project, gives views to the tree canopy above.

Crucially, the structure does not break ground, to avoid the tree roots – “if you’re going to build a tree house, you don’t want to kill the tree,” jokes Harmer – and the structure doesn’t actually touch the tree.

Instead, it fits neatly around the tree trunk, supported by V-shaped stilts bolted onto sheet plywood on a sand bed. As there was little time to wait for planning approval, it was designed to meet permitted development standards, so each rib is under 4m tall, and the space inside is 185cu m.

Inside it is cosy and semi-secluded, though workers will have to learn to endure a fervent crowd of Instagrammers at ground level. It has power supply and wi-fi, can be hired for events, and is free for community use at weekends.

If successful this prototype will be rolled out to a number of sites in and around Hackney. It was launched as part of the London Festival of Architecture 2015.

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