Tree Houses (Huts? Sheds?) in Manhattan
November 17th, 2008
Alerted by my British shed-pal Alex Johnson, of www.shedworking.co.uk, to news that a village of tree houses had sprung up in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park, I was determined to see the spectacle with my own eyes. While in NYC for a brief 48 hour visit last weekend, I added a stop at this midtown Manhattan public exhibit of sheds-in-trees.
My son, Ben, and I spent 2 days in New York, en route home from a not-so-happy occasion (my mother-in-law’s funeral). The exposure to theater and art was a welcome respite. Last Sunday, before departing to take the train out to JFK Airport, we squeezed in a subway ride on the Downtown R train to 23rd Street & Fifth Avenue.
Emerging from underground into the beautiful autumn weather, we crossed the street and entered a verdant, 6.2-acre patch in the heart of urban hustle. Looking up, built around the trunks and suspended amid branches of six or seven tall shade trees, we spied the underneath sides of the Tree Huts. While quite humble, constructed with an apparent lack of precision from 2-by-4s and nails, each little hut seems perfect in its imperfection. The mere essentials of shelter are provided: roof overhead; floor beneath; walls to protect; window or doorway for access and light. All that is missing is a rope ladder or steps made by pieces of lumber nailed up the tree trunks. I was eager to scramble the heights and enter one of these engaging structures!
Created by Japanese-born artist Tadashi Kawamata, who is the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s artist-in-residence, “Tree Huts” represents his “interest in the architecture of shelter and of the insertion of private objects into public spaces as a method of renegotiating the meaning of both.”
According to the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s web site:
Under Kawamata’s direction, complex and chaotic architectural growths of raw lumber, found objects and construction scraps bloom around existing aspects of the urban landscape. Playing upon the dialectic of construction and destruction that characterizes the life cycle of public space, Kawamata’s artistic practice is finely attuned to a site’s history, use, and physical characteristics. His building style is organic and improvisational, with little predetermined.
To me, the very notion of a tree house in the heart of Manhattan is worthy of my attention. These little structures-in-the-sky represent a wry observation. Of what? Well, of life in the city; or of the definition of home; or of luxury versus bare necessity. More than anything, I liked standing in the middle of a city park on a Sunday morning, gazing at Kawamata’s ragged architecture amidst the foliage and dappled light. Boards akimbo, his Tree Huts appeal to the imagination and the child within us. Read more at the Tree Hut blog.
P.S., According to the Tree Hut blog, no trees were harmed in the execution of this art installation:
A tree expert walked the artist through the park explaining the strength and weaknesses of the various trees, and selection was made based on his recommendations. The trees are not in direct contact with the wood and no screws pierce the trees. Thick rubber is first strapped to the tree, then lumber is strapped to the rubber, and then lumber is joined to lumber with screws, and the hut goes up.
I know Cass Turnbull will be relieved to learn of this!