Terreform: Building Houses Out of Living Trees

Want a treehouse? A New York architect is taking orders for buildings constructed out of—and by—living trees. Mitchell Joachim developed the Fab Tree Hab with some colleagues while at MIT, but now he's gone past the conceptual stage with his nonprofit, Terreform.

The idea is to allow plants to grow over a computer-designed plywood structure. Once the plants are interconnected and stable, the plywood is removed and reused. Joachim is experimenting with Israeli plants that grow quickly and develop an interwoven root structure that's soft enough to "train" over the plywood, but then hardens into a more durable structure. The inside walls would be conventional clay and plaster.

It may take a while before houses are actually built. And the growing nature of the homes present challenges. One is with zoning: no municipality wants to grant a construction permit to a home that keeps changing. Windows are another problem. Joachim is experimenting with soy-based windows that could stretch with a home's exterior. Dying trees would be less of an issue, since rotted portions could always be replaced with live trees.

There have been no sales yet, but Joachim says he's close. He dreams of a village of living homes that would meld with the environment. Neighborhood wildlife could sustain itself by nibbling on the homes' greenery. That sounds lovely, as long as they don't literally eat tree-dwelling families out of house and home.