Two tall Tembusu trees (both next to a much shorter Jering tree) stand sentinel in the large compound of a private bungalow. The children roam and ramble through the house with its side gardens, carp pond, waterfall and swimming pool, but were never able to get too close to the trees because of the shrubs around the area. The owner’s granddaughter, having read about treehouses wanted one for herself and her friends. This would give them their own space outdoors.
The Lee Treehouse was built around one Tembusu and the Jering tree very close to it. The healthy Tembusu, which is gazetted for preservation by the Singapore National Parks Board and dates back to the 19th Century, stands 60 feet tall with a moderate crown in relation to its tall trunk of one metre girth. Both trees have extensive roots at the base of the trunk radiating in all directions. This necessitated a careful location of structural supports in specific areas, which permitted the construction of pad footing without injury to the root system of the tree. Central to the design objective was the idea that space could be formed using parts of the tree in relation to parts of the structure, whilst allowing the tree to grow and move.
Timber screens and two levels of play decks allowing children to hide away whilst within a transparent enclosure enclosed the spaces. Elevated views of the residential site from pleasantly shaded and will ventilated “interiors” are possible at mid-height of the tree. This deck, over 7 metres above ground also gives lovely views of sunrise and sunset. A bench on the first upper deck is also a balcony and the built form is porous enough as a lattice screen with trellis elements which allow the branches of the tree to penetrate the enclosure where needed and to move with wind and rain. A third deck at the lowest level is three steps above ground and shaded by a low leafy branch forming a miniature patio.
The children love the place. They play, read and relax. They do not feel walled in but are perched in their special hideaway up in the tree. The trellis is the ceiling, and squirrels, birds and blue sky often peep through. Children play right into the night in the brightly upper decks. A bell connects them conveniently to the main house. On other occasions, adults will be up the tree enjoying the drinks and their books.
Although distinctively a man-made intervention, the linear, elegant appearance of the structure is in keeping with the natural form of the tree, which dominates, in the overall architectural composition.
Photos by Simon Devitt
Associate Professor Joseph Lim from the NUS Department of Architecture has been awarded an Honourable Mention in the prestigious Kenneth F. Brown Asia Pacific Architecture Award Programme for 2002 for a project built in Singapore, Lee Treehouse. This is the first full time NUS faculty member and the second Singaporean to have won an Honourable Mention in this award.
The jurors for the 2002 cycle, Professor Kenneth Frampton (US), Gregory Burgess (Australia) and William Lim (Singapore) praised Associate Professor Lim’s project Lee Treehouse as a rhythmically compelling demonstration of a treehouse in Singapore wherein a steel-framed, multi-levelled, timber-slatted house and a tree are allowed to co-exist without in any way impinging on the other.
About the Award
The Kenneth F. Brown Asia Pacific Architecture Award Programme is a biennial event sponsored by the University of Hawaii’s School of Architecture and the Architects Regional Council Asia (ARCASIA). Inaugurated in 1995 in honour of eminent architect and humanitarian, Kenneth F. Brown, FAIA, the programme recognises and celebrates outstanding contemporary architecture in the Asia-Pacific region. The goal of the Award programme, through the periodic selection of outstanding architectural work, is able to establish a critical foundation for the improvement of the built environment.
A total of 120 projects from architects representing over 15 countries from the Asia-Pacific region were submitted for the Award. Associate Professor Lim’s project was recognised with an Honourable Mention, together with seven other internationally renowned practitioners. Among them are Mr Glenn Murcutt, Australia (who is also the Pritzker Prize winner 2002); Mr Kerry Hill, Singapore (who is also the Aga Khan Award winner 2002); and Mr Shuhei Endo, Japan (who is also winner of 8th Japan Public Architecture Award 2001, Francesco Borromini Award 2001)
The jurors for the 2002 cycle, Professor Kenneth Frampton (US), Gregory Burgess (Australia) and William Lim (Singapore).