Saturday, 31 August 2013


Residual Condition by Boo Saville


We have no prairies 
To slice a big sun at evening-- 
Everywhere the eye concedes to 
Encrouching horizon, 

Is wooed into the cyclops' eye 
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country 
Is bog that keeps crusting 
Between the sights of the sun. 

They've taken the skeleton 
Of the Great Irish Elk 
Out of the peat, set it up 
An astounding crate full of air. 

Butter sunk under 
More than a hundred years 
Was recovered salty and white. 
The ground itself is kind, black butter 

Melting and opening underfoot, 
Missing its last definition 
By millions of years. 
They'll never dig coal here, 

Only the waterlogged trunks 
Of great firs, soft as pulp. 
Our pioneers keep striking 
Inwards and downwards, 

Every layer they strip 
Seems camped on before. 
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage. 
The wet centre is bottomless. 

-Seamus Heaney

This is my favourite poem by Heaney, for the lines Butter sunk under/ More than a hundred years / Was recovered salty and white. I have never seen the bogland he describes, but somehow it stirs a deep ancestral memory, buried like the bodies- butter sunk- that are fished out by our pioneers. My ancestors were peat cutters.

Three years ago wandering east London in a mushroom haze I happened upon an exhibition by the artist Boo Saville at Trolley Gallery on Redchurch Street (sadly no longer there). The title of that exhibition was Butter Sunk, and consisted principally of biro drawings of bog men (see above).

A year or so later and I happened to be at Spitalfields market, no too far from Redchurch Street, traded a copy of The Myth of Sisyphus for P.V Glob's The Bog People, an amazing catalogue of immortal remains.

In ...Sisyphus Camus addresses the principal of absurdity: namely our search for meaning in a Universe that is apparently meaningless. We all desire immortality, yet we all die. After death most of us remain as some kind of shadow, a slip of memory for a time at least, until ultimately we are forgotten. For men and women like Heaney (and there are but few) their work survives them, long after their flesh has withered. The bog people attained a different kind of immortality: their deeds, words and names are long forgotten but their flesh remains.

Monday, 26 August 2013


Good landscape architecture appeals to a very primal part of the human psyche, an ancestral memory of a life lived not in labyrinths of brick and concrete but in the open air. For the most part, it appeals to the concepts of prospect and refuge... and what man-made structure combines prospect and refuge better than a tree house?

I was recently given a copy of Philip Jodidio's Tree Houses as a gift and have selected my fifteen favourites for Psychocartography.


Designed and built by Roderick Wolgamott Romero, the charm of this structure lies in its ability to nestle very comfortably in its surroundings. This can be attributed to the use of reclaimed and salvaged lumber (including driftwood collected from the shore of Long Island) as the primary building material, in addition to the successful effort on the part of the designer to emulate a real bird's nest...


Image courtesy
 Designed by by Sean Orlando and the Five Ton Crane Arts Group. Like all things Steampunk the design references Jules Verne, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and H G Wells. Those big stills in the background are for  the brewing of beer.

Image courtesy

Image courtesy


By Kobayashi Takashi, this was built in 2005 to accommodate backpackers on the island of Okinawa.

12. UFO TREE HOUSE, Harads Tree Hotel, SWEDEN

One of several tree houses that form part of Harads Tree Hotel in Sweden, this incredibly convincing flying saucer was designed by Inredningsgruppen of Sweden.

Despite it's other-wordly, retro futurist design it seems to fit very comfortably into its environment... maybe because of some repressed mitochondrial memory concerning extra-terrestrial ancestry? Or maybe the influence of science fiction on architectural design more generally...


Two astounding things about this treehouse:

1- It is in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon... the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, to be precise

2- It sits an incredible 27 metres (90 feet in old money) from the ground, in the rainforest canopy!

Like the majority of tree houses featured in this blog, this structure forms part of a luxury hotel complex and is rented to tourists. Unlike other similar resorts, the Inkaterra Canopy is run by a non-profit NGO organising eco tourism to help subsidise the preservation of the 104 square kilometre Inkaterra Reserve.

10. 4 TREE HOUSE, Lake Mudkoka, Ontario, CANADA

Designed by Lukasz Kos of four o nine, this tree house was selected because it combines contemporary design and fine craftsmanship whilst still adhering to the principal of a tree house: it is supported by four living trees! So many contemporary structures are just platforms next to a tree...


If the previous entry earned itself merit points for staying true to the principals of the tree house then I have to immediately demonstrate my own hypocrisy by including three creations of Terunobu Fujimori.

The first, illustrated above, perches atop five giant bamboo stems that have been brought to this location rather than trees that grew naturally... but in Fujimori's work nature provides the materials not the overiding aesthetic, which instead is informed by fantasy and faery tale. The appeal of the Irisentei Tea Nest is in its incredible character, perched atop five improbably high legs it looks as though it is ready to embark upon some Hayao Miyazaki inspired adventure...

8.   HORACE'S CATHEDRAL, Crossville, Tennessee, USA

Faith compels ordinary men and women to commit some extraordinary acts. To men and women of reason these acts are often baffling. In Horace Burgess' case, faith compelled him to build a cathedral in the trees, after the Lord told him "If you build me a tree house, I'll see you never run out of material." How one interprets Horace's actions determines where one might sit on the faith-reason axis, but the few could mock what he has achieved: the construction of a ten storey church in the trees. 


Situated in the "Nanshan Buddhist and Ecological Theme Park" this truly captures the spirit of the traditional tree house: the structure is built around the twisting branches of the incredible Tamarind tree in which it perches.

Designed by David Greenberg of Tree Houses of Hawaii

6.   LANGEAIS CASTLE TREE HOUSE, Parc de L'an Mil, Château de Langeais, FRANCE

As with the Big Beach in the Sky the design and construction of the Langeais tree house was carried out with deference to the magnificent tree (in this case an enormous Cedar of Lebanon) that supports it.

Designed by Enéa based on an idea by Dans Mon Arbre, the tree house is an exciting multi-level structure built from larch.

5.   TEAHOUSE TETSU,  Hokuto City, Yamanashi, JAPAN

A fantasy in cherry blossom, supported by a single cypress trunk. Again, the work of Terunobu Fujimori.


The acclaimed baumhaus designer Andreas Wenning features heavily in Jodidio's book, but only the tree house at Djuren has made the final list here. Built upon two levels, the first nestles gently between two oaks whilst the second maintains a detached and aloof elegance atop four thin steel columns.


Directly referencing the organic forms found within the forest, designer Peter Eising of Pacific Environments wraps this New Zealand Redwood in a shell or perhaps a chrysalis, within which is a 44 sqm restaurant.


Another entry from the Harads tree hotel in Sweden, this time designed by Tham and Videgård Arkitekter. A simple idea executed incredibly well, by using reflective glass the cube vanishes into its woodland context.

The reflective glass creates a peculiar effect when, at dusk, the lights are turned on inside treehouse, creating portals into an invisible world.

1.   TAKASUGI-AN, Chino, Nagano, JAPAN 

So, an odd choice for finest tree house in the world? Mr. Fujimori's creations possess neither the adherence to the rough and ready reclaimed aesthetic of the traditional tree house, nor the elegance and finish of more contemporary designs. Only one of them featured on this blog actually sits in a tree. But they all possess incredible character.

Takasugi-an literally translates as teahouse built too high, and possesses the same quality as the Irisentei Tea House- that it appears to be about to stroll blithely into the beautiful vista beyond. The handbeaten blue copperplate roof is shaped almost like the hat of Snufkin, Moomin's nomadic bohemian friend, another restless soul unwilling to be tethered to the ground.

It is difficult to understand the charm of the interior without the addition of a human scale element; we are fortunate to have Mr. Fujimori himself provide such scale in the image below:

I thought at first that the roof of this amazing tree house was similar to Snufkin's hat, but now I see it was actually Fujimori's hat in the picture. The fact that the window of Takasugi-an frames a view of the town where the designer grew up further cements my opinion that this is a work of childhood wish-fulfillment, like all of the creations exhibited here. Do all children dream of living in a tree house? Perhaps not, but few of those that do are fortunate enough to realise that ambition. Takasugi-an is the greatest tree house in the world because it is true to that childhood ambition, without the fastidious embellishments of adult life... apart from the facilities for making tea, naturally.

Tree Houses: Fairy Tale castles in the Air by Philip Jodidio is available to buy from Taschen Books now.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


68 years ago Hiroshima became the first city to be targeted by an atomic weapon.

The Last Song

I am a shadow on the wall.
My memoir- that you read now-
Is but a product of someone else’s imagining
But my story is true.
It is a love story…
…or, rather, a love song…

           When you opened your mouth
            It was not words that came out
It was music:
A melody, pitched above the baritone drone
Of propellers and engines overhead,
A melody pitched beneath
Shrill klaxons,
The air raid sirens.
I took you in my arms and embraced you.
It was music- not words-
And your smile filled the sky
And all was saturated in white light.
A moment.
A moment passed, imperceptibly.
The white light- a flash-
And there was nothing but you
You and I
Bigger than war
Bigger than war and death and God.
But what I saw was not you before me.
Just an image burned on my retina.

                I was clutching at a shadow when the shockwave hit
                Turning my bones to dust and ash.


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