The Green Tree House

Architect David Sellers designed a green tree house inspired by nature and built in Vermont from local trees and stone.

| February/March 2004


This inviting home, made from local trees and stone, sits deep in the Vermont woods.

Photo by Carolyn L. Bates

The Green Tree House

When architect David Sellers received an assignment to build a home in Vermont's Green Mountains on a sharply sloping, uncleared woodland site, he didn't hesitate to take on the difficult project. In fact, he thought of it as an exciting chance to flesh out his ideas for reducing both the eyesore factor and the environmental impact of building in a relatively unspoiled setting. It didn't hurt that the client offered what every architect dreams of — a nearly unlimited timeline and a great deal of budgetary and creative control.

Sellers already had proved his mettle: Named as one of the world's 100 foremost architects by Architectural Digest in 1992, he had achieved recognition for his emphasis on designing with nature as well as his work with pedestrian and human-scale settlement patterns.

The prospective homeowner did give Sellers a few important guiding principles: He asked that the home reflect the Japanese architectural traditions he'd come to love through visits to his daughter-in-law's homeland — simple, natural materials and a connection to the surrounding environment — and he wanted trees to be in the forefront of the design.

A Discrete Footprint

Sellers began to plot a scheme for a structure that would seem to grow right out of the hillside. "We tried to leave the immediate surroundings wild. There's no lawn or garden, just a few native plants for minimal landscaping," he says. "An inch away from the house is wilderness."

Sellers carefully considered all of the treasures that clearing the existing site would offer, from huge stone slabs to stately, solid trees. "It's like a game of rock, paper, scissors," he says. "You look at the choices available to you, all of which might work, and consider factors like aesthetics and embodied energy. Perhaps the first choice has low embodied energy and is essentially free because it's found on site. The second choice might be economical as well because it's mass-produced, but it involves a whole lot of embodied energy because of manufacture and transportation. Then you have to think about what other materials you'll use to go along with it. For example, if you put in milled 2-by-4s, you have to use a lot of other materials to cover them up and support them, and that involves more embodied energy."

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