The Evans Tree House at Garvan Woodland Gardens

Group: modus studio
Client: Garvan Woodland Gardens
Duration: 2014 – 2018
Location: Hot Springs, AR
Role: Designer (2014 – 2015)

Garvan Woodland Gardens is a University of Arkansas-owned botanical garden located in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The garden will play host to three “tree houses” that will provide an interactive and playful educational experience for children. Each of the houses will teach visitors about a separate topic: insects + pollination (entomology), plants + forest (dendrology), and birds + flight / adaptation (ornithology).

In order to make best use of the diverse and otherwise organic site, the structures are aligned on a linear axis stretching down the main hill. Their placement connects physically varied and ecologically different zones, and their alignment encourages the visitor to look beyond the garden’s boundaries to the nearby boardwalk and additional gardens.

The Gardens set strong examples for both materiality and form. Natural materials are paramount, with metal and glass included where appropriate. Verticality, transparency, and lightness are important characteristics of the garden architecture.

Each of the tree houses has its own educational topic; these themes drive both the form and the program of the houses. With its focus on dendrology, the first house was designed with the surrounding trees in mind. In the wide array of sketches produced by the designers at modus, this design took varying forms, at times mimicking the roots, branches, and varying densities of a forest, at other times defying gravity altogether to “float” amongst the branches.

In its built form, the tree house wraps tightly around a cluster of pine and oak trees, mimicking the curving path of the existing walking bridge and orienting towards the pond in the center of the site.

The tree house is scaled to the experience of a child, and the structure all but disappears. It is organic and yet foreign, transforming as the visitor explores the garden. The wooden slats of the tree house are close enough to afford children a sense of escape and privacy, and yet spaced widely enough to allow parents to monitor their kids safely.

All photographs © Timothy HursleyVideo © Blk Elk Media. All other images © modus studio.

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