Just a few words about a fascinating little corner of the arboriculture world known as tree shaping or arborisculpture, the training of living trees into sculptures, furniture, buildings and other structures. Tree shaping has seldom implemented although the principle is the same as the far more common practice of espalier, which is a tree or shrub trained to grow flat against a frame or wall in a garden, often for increasing fruit production. Tree shaping has little practical application but it is nonetheless interesting as a creative expression of the wonder, strength and beauty of trees and how humans can engage with them and the broader natural world.
The field’s greatest visionary was Arthur Wiechula (German, 1867 – 1941) who envisioned growing entire buildings and researched the physiology of the necessary grafting.
Smaller works such as chairs and individual sculpted trees are documented since at least the 19th century, with Germany perhaps the chief center of activity, followed by the UK and US. Germany has most of the world’s living buildings – a couple of churches and a four story pavilion built with the aid of metal scaffold. India, however, has largest, oldest and most functional living structures. In the state of Meghalaya are footbridges, formed of living roots of Ficus trees, that reportedly are centuries old and able to support 50 people.
The four-story Platanenkubus [sycamore or plane-tree cube] is in Stuttgart. The supporting frame will be dismantled in the future when the trees are strong enough; the only metal remaining will be the gangways. University researchers conducted extensive studies on how to integrate metal and living tree elements so the wood grows around metal pipes or rods.
Sanfte Structuren [Soft Structures] – team that has made many living gazebos and huts
Bureau Baubotanik [Botanical Building] – team that has done about 10 projects
Treeshapers – overview of the subject
30 more links on living buildings and arborisculpture, here.
University of Stuttgart Bautbotanik research and design project