Saturday, February 27, 2010

What if your house could capture CO2, fix nitrogen, and provide food for yourself or wildlife?

Arborsculpture isn't new, but some of the people involved in the art are going to even further extremes. Think of arborsculpture as a kind of combination of bonsai, grafting, and pleaching. You're probably familiar with bonsai and grafting, but pleaching is a lesser known technique in the training of trees and plants. Basically, you grow two or more plants in close proximity, such as in a hedge, and then you cut their branches and stick them together. When they heal, they'll actually heal together, and you get get beautiful latticework as in the picture above. Arborsculpture has been used to create everything from chairs and tables, to shelters like the one above.

A team coming out of MIT, known as Terreform, has developed what they call the Fab Tree Hab. It uses arborsculpture techniques to grow houses which are finished off with cob, a mixture of clay and stray. The only real problem they face is zoning and insurance restrictions--it's hard to keep your house from moving and getting bigger when it's alive.

That said, it's a fun idea, and eliminates the harmful effects of growing, harvesting, and transporting resources for building houses. Everything is grown and stays in its final place, and continues to grow and absorb CO2. Further, it likely provides food for either you or wildlife. When I have the space, I'd be interested in trying to grow a building out of empress trees. They seem like a likely candidate, considering they can grow up to 15 feet in a single season. One just has to plan ahead for the placement of doors and windows... and especially skylights so the inside of your building can get sunlight and thrive.

Richard Reames comes up as one of the United States' leading experts on arborsculpture. His book, Arborsculpture: Solutions for a Small Planet, is available online. He's a fellow Oregonian, and his website, available here, details the work he's done around his home.

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