Branching out: designs for our new treehouse

On Monday, before the students returned for the start of term, a judging panel of three Trust staff snuck into the Architecture Department of Oxford Brookes University to see what they had been up to since we last saw them.

Back in September, in their first week on the course, we showed 140 keen and bright-eyed 1st year architecture students around our woodland at Stansfeld Park and set them a challenge. The first project they were to undertake on their course was to design us a treehouse that could be installed in the woodland near the ponds. The concept is a nod to the ‘Bird’s Nest’ Lilliputian treehouse that Rev. John Stansfeld constructed some 100 years ago, when he first bought the site as a rural retreat for the children from the slums of St Ebbes.

Our 21st century treehouse design had to meet a number of exacting criteria. It had to provide a weather proof refuge for a class of 30 primary school children, reflect the history and natural environment of the site and be constructed using low impact methods and sustainable resources.

After their site visit, the students went away with their minds spinning and creative juices flowing. Last October, just one month after being given the brief, we watched groups present a design piece that could go in, or on, their individual treehouses. This whetted our appetites and it was with much anticipation that our CEO Steve Burgess, Centre Manager Mike Dennis and I returned to Brookes last week to look at 140 scaled treehouse models and drawings that the students had created. And what a staggering array of options they had come up with. From fantastical pier structures reaching out over the water, to crash-landed spacecraft and everything in between. Metal, timber, plastic and fabric had all been employed to great effect to provide shelter, colour, texture and intrigue. In the end we whittled down the designs to four that we felt were the most visually impressive and practical designs, whilst still being durable, affordable, sustainable and sympathetic to the setting.

These four budding architects will now work together to come up with a final specification for the treehouses while we busily apply for funding to make their concepts a reality.

Dr Roger Baker, Outdoor Learning & Ecology Manager