At the Yale forest, a house with a view

Among the lofty pines of the Yale-Myers Forest this summer, a treehouse was built.

Last Saturday marked the completion of a two-year-long project spearheaded by Griffin Collier ’13, an architecture major who said he dreamed of constructing a treehouse for the entire Yale community to enjoy. Resting atop an old sugar maple tree five minutes away from the Yale-Myers Forest base camp, the Lau Treehouse’s geometric, aluminum frame looms nearly 12 feet off the ground. At a dedication ceremony over the weekend, Collier and his treehouse-building team were joined by a group of roughly 45 people who arrived to see and interact with the finished product.

Collier said he came upon the idea for the project during a casual conversation with friends in the Timothy Dwight College courtyard.

“It was an impossible project to begin with … [I was] one of the last people to believe that it could actually be accomplished,” Collier said. “In terms of the number of hoops we had to jump through to get it approved, and how long it took to work out the structural issues, it was a staggering number of man-hours.”

The team raised funding for the project through online fundraising platform Kickstarter. Despite setting an original goal of only $5,000, the project raised $10,536 by the campaign’s February end.

The structure — named after the largest donors to the Kickstarter campaign, Claire Woo SOM ’01 and Gordon Lau — was largely constructed over the summer, when volunteers worked on site over the weekends. Since the Yale-Myers Forest is located about an hour-and-a-half’s drive from campus, team members said transportation proved to be one of their biggest obstacles. Ellen Su ’13, who has been with the project since the moment the idea was raised, recalled the challenge of transporting 15 feet-long pieces of aluminum over a 70-mile distance.

Collier noted that the treehouse’s design and choice of materials are unconventional.

“A lot of people [at the dedication] were surprised by how much metal is involved,” he said. “’Treehouse’ is actually not the most apt description — I would describe it firstly as a sculpture in a tree that one is able to inhabit spatially.”

Over the course of the summer, Su said seven to 10 students worked on site regularly. Many were Collier’s close friends, while others were students who had responded to his email calling for volunteers. The four team members interviewed — Collier, Genevieve Fowler ’16, Daniel Rathbone ’14, and Su — said they bonded easily through the long and physically-tiring work days, which were often capped off with freshly roasted s’mores.

While Collier said he was initially disappointed that the treehouse could not have been constructed on campus — the TD ginkgo he had first considered was found to be sickly — he now appreciates the forest’s distant location, which situates the treehouse safely away from the hectic pace of life at Yale.

Rathbone, who directed the construction rigging, recently took two friends to see the site.

“One of them remarked that even though we’ve only been on campus for three days, it’s nice to get away,” Rathbone said, adding that he grew up in the New England forest and appreciated the necessary escape that nature is often able to provide.

“When you’re in the outdoors, things that you would usually think about don’t matter as much,” Fowler said. “Nobody’s checking their phones as much — it’s just a different type of place to be.”

Fowler said she found it refreshing to experience physical exhaustion, as opposed to mental tiredness, at the end of each day. While most architectural coursework is theoretical, Collier said, the treehouse gave him the opportunity to see a design transformed into physical reality.

Now that the treehouse is complete, Collier said he hopes the team will continue to work in the spirit of the project, whether through design projects related to the current structure, or in furthering the idea that students can pursue a project “built in real space and designed in the real world.”

Yale Forest Manager Alex Barrett FES ’12 said he has yet to determine the accessibility of the treehouse. Since the Yale-Myers Forest is typically not open to the public, Collier said he hopes to set up a reservation system for students to schedule visits.

The Yale-Myers Forest is located in the towns of Union, Ashford, Eastford and Woodstock.

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