Kew Gardens Treehouse
Winning design for Treehouses at Kew Exhibition
London, United Kingdom
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
Kevin Kelly Architects with Stand Engineers
The ‘Treehouses at Kew’ exhibition will be a spectacular outdoor architectural exhibition of seven treehouses set across Kew Gardens’ iconic 320-acre landscape.
Three of the treehouses were the subject of a joint design competition with the Museum of Architecture, with submissions being asked to examine how trees are essential to human wellbeing. We were delighted to be part of the winning team for the Pine tree category, which highlights nature’s architecture and biomimicry.
Using principles borrowed from nature, and looking beyond the traditional idea of a treehouse, 'An Audience with Nature’ will be an inhabitable amphitheatre. Mimicking pinecones, the structural strength of the pods comes from their shape and their arrangement as a cluster - the pattern of which was inspired by Kew’s research into the DNA and genome sequences of conifer trees.
Cundall supported Kevin Kelly Architects with technical expertise in calculating the embodied carbon in the proposed design, which achieves its shape through applying digital programming to the centuries-old construction technique of willow weaving.
As might be expected for a sculptural installation, the majority of the carbon impact came from the steel connections, however the design overall has a relatively small upfront carbon impact of less than 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (which is similar to 4x small city cars*). This was optimised through the high use of biogenic, regenerative materials, as well as reclaimed items, such as recycled concrete railway sleepers for the base detailing.
Given the exhibition is planned to be open for a 6-month period, it was necessary to ensure a life beyond the exhibition where the sculpture can be deconstructed and relocated elsewhere. The modular nature allows for a non-destructive disassembly, and flexibility built in to allow for the seat pods to act as stand-alone pieces of outdoor furniture.
Particular attention was given to the use and application of the materials. With the exception of the CLT, all of the materials shall be sourced from the UK from sustainable producers. This is particularly important when considering replacement events over time, especially of the willow, and ease of supplier re-engagement. At eventual end of life, all materials are expected to be reused or recycled either on or off site. Incorporating circular thinking was imperative for ensuring minimal environmental impact and optimising use of resources.
The exhibition will be open to the public between April – October 2023.
*based upon Citreon C1 model
High use of regenerative and reclaimed materials has led to an upfront carbon impact of 15 tonnes CO2e or 4x small city cars!
Modular, prefabricated design allows for non-destructive disassembly for relocation elsewhere within the RBG Kew estate.
The untreated woven panels will eventually be broken down on-site and fed into Kew’s 3,500 tonne a year composting facility.
As a sculpture, I think it perfectly sets the stage to observe nature and provoke thinking about how best we can learn from it – considering regeneration and circularity.