Read more of her thoughts on green building and design at Dwelling Places.

Denise and Doug have been planning to build a house for a long time.  They were thinking about this natural dream home from the time they bought land in rural Wisconsin in 2004 and planning for it all during my years of architecture graduate school (from which I graduated in 2008).  I was introduced to my current employer, Whole Trees Architecture, by my mother, when she read this article about them in Natural Home Magazine and contacted Roald Gundersen to see about his building the house for them.  Two years ago I started, under the watchful eye of my mentor and boss, to design it for them.  Its been a long time coming, sure but its been coming steadily and now that time has nearly come.

Nothing more to take away

Perfection is achieved, not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This time has allowed for many iterations and adaptations of the design.  Its shrunk significantly from its first version, with three full floors and nearly 2000 square feet (still less than the average new home today) to a compact main 900 sf main floor with a partial basement holding an earth sheltered guest room, office and mechanical space and a small loft accessed by ladder over the den.  The current design will have a living roof, passive and active solar heating and cooling, straw bale walls and a whole tree structure.  It will be quite the natural building sampler when finished!

The first step

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Lao Tzu

Identifying the first step of building a house is difficult.  Is it intention or action?  Wishing for one? Obtaining land?  Beginning to design?  I’m going to draw a line in the sand and say that the first step of building this house will take place next week.

On Monday, A crew from Whole Trees will come to the building site for a week of tree preparation.  Unlike a conventional house, built from anonymous lumber yard 2x4s, this house will have a round wood, timber frame structure harvested from the land that surrounds it.

Tree Harvesting, Whole Trees style

When Whole Trees cuts the lumber for this house, there won’t be any clear cutting – just a healthy thinning of the abundant forest resource, rather like weeding a garden, and leaving the remaining trees with more room to grow.  Meanwhile, we will be availing ourselves of an increcibly local, sustainable building material.  The trees will actually be harvested in the late fall (after the ground has frozen and the forest floor plants have died back) but this week every tree to be used in the house will be chosen, tagged and as many as possible will be “peeled” – their bark stripped off – and left standing so that they can cure over the next few months.

For more on the benefits of Whole Tree Structures, check this past post!

This house design will use 118 individual round wood pieces: branching columns, curving beams and (many, many) relatively straight joists and rafters.  The “framing plan” of the roof is shown below, detailing round rafter timbers every 2 feet to support the roof, and resting in turn on a timber frame structure of columns and beams.  You can also see my outline for the way the branching columns will be expressed in the house above in the section drawing.  Of course, we don’t know exactly how those branches will look until we select the actual trees next week.

Tune in next week for exciting progress reports on the peeling progress!


3 replies

    • It sure is exciting. The whole process, after years of planning, is finally starting to take physical form.
      I’ll be posting about our first day in which we selected 100 trees in my post tomorrow.

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