Knowing what we do about the healing properties of trees makes many of us search for a woodland home. Forests are the ultimate antidote to the stressed pace of modern life. They clean the air while boosting our immune systems. The Japanese believe in shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Henry David Thoreau, too, believed that nature is a tonic. Where better to live than surrounded by trees?
That is the subject of a handsome new volume from Phaidon. Living In The Forest showcases homes designed by 50 different architects in 21 countries. Organized into three chapters, the book demonstrates the pioneering and conscientious ways these homes frame, harmonize with and become part of the forest. From tiny off-grid tree houses to experimental passive architecture, the designs offer a number of ways to respect and connect with nature. As built environments steadily encroach on natural ones, it is clear that such respect is not the norm and that to live in harmony with the land is a goal escaping many of us.
But here are 50 examples of biophilic architecture, organized into looking at, becoming part of and surviving in the forest. The first chapter is all about the view; it showcases 17 examples of homes designed to showcase the lush exterior via windows, terraces, rooftops, decks and vast glazed walls. There are surprises: a contemporary house in Denmark has a very traditional Scandinavian sod roof and a new house high above New York’s Hudson River is constructed of rough-cut granite and wood timbers, much like its grand neighboring manor houses. A white block urban house in Bangkok is home to over 120 trees representing 20 indigenous species, creating a forest in the city.
In the second chapter, 16 houses explore the concept of harmony with nature. Some, like a prefabricated home on a rented plot in a Dutch forest, are designed to leave no trace once dismantled. Others, like a Norwegian tree house that’s fastened to a living tree trunk, barely impact the environment at all. Locally sourced materials and a limited, naturalistic color palette helps these structures to blend into their environments. A round house on stilts in a Chinese pine forest looks, with its peaked roof, like a giant mushroom. A Balinese villa composed of stacked concrete cubes is softened with cascading greenery.
The third chapter shows ambitious projects built in remote sites and on inhospitable terrain. A sense of immersion in nature prevails; these houses were designed in response to the owners’ desire for a home that disappears into the landscape and that provides equal opportunities to find shelter to animals, plants and humans. We see a sunken, underground structure concealed beneath a hillside in Mexico, and a tiny Finnish cabin placed on a single slender steel column, surrounded by towering pines. An off-grid house in South Africa hovers in a deep canopy of leaves. The owners specified that, to build the house, not a single tree be cut.
In each case pictured in the book, trees take center stage and determine the building program. Looking at the gorgeous photographs, we can almost smell the tang of an ancient pine forest.