Emerging Voices winner modus studio has nearly completed a floating treehouse in the Garvan Woodland Gardens of their native Arkansas. The twisting timber Tree House rises between the oak and pine trees of the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden and is designed both to mimic the surrounding woods as well as to draw children back into nature. A soft opening for the Tree House this Saturday will cap several years of construction.
Garvan Woodland Gardens is the University of Arkansas’s 210-acre botanical garden, and one of only eight public woodland gardens in the country. Modus is a frequent collaborator with the university, having most recently completed the transformation of the school’s sculpture studio.
The Tree House is the first of three proposed for the woods, and modus took design cues from nature to create an arboreal play space that doubles as an educational station where visitors can learn about how trees grow.
As visitors follow a suspended catwalk through the woods and the foliage recedes, visitors are gradually confronted with the Tree House’s mass. The curved Tree House reaches two stories at one end and tapers to a child-sized window at the other. The curvilinear plan, combined with the timber ribs that make up the tree house’s open structure, creates a biomorphic shape that references the expansion of tree rings. The screen created by the gaps in the scaffolding regulates light, creates unique vantage points for visitors at different parts of the tree house, and allows the building to further blend into the forest.
The Tree House is rife with other biophilic touches. A timber staircase allows children to descend to the Root Plaza below, where they can experience the foliage from ground-level (or ascend up to the canopy from a trail). Inside, modus used their in-house fabrication shop to build a steel screen reminiscent of a decaying leaf, capping the tree house’s larger end while still allowing views out to the forest. Slices from native trees, bark, and other teaching tools inside the treehouse build on what modus calls the “theme of dendrology, the study of trees and wooded plants” to drive programming.
The privately funded, $1.8 million project will hold its “soft” opening to the public this weekend as the landscaping underneath and some interior components are not fully installed yet. A full grand opening is expected for the fall. AN will update this article to include completed photos of the Tree House after its opening on June 30.