April 15, 2023

Designing with Nature

Designing with Nature
Tom Durn

Philip Hurrell from Millar + Howard Architects was the lead designer of our Treehouses and here gives his thoughts and the story behind the project.

The way we live in and relate to the natural world as natural beings is full of possibility for renewal and a brighter future. A future that seems to hold a lot of anxiety for many people. I believe that if we can help people fall in love with life and the world through experiences and buildings like this, we can go some way towards greater joy and authenticity, and be inspired to learn how to balance our lives with the natural world.

The rewilding project and broader vision of Elmore Court, lead by Anselm, has a foundational premise of tapping into the fullness of life and it’s this spirit that we’ve aimed to carry with these treehouses.

Arrival threshold

Rather than sculptural objects to be admired, we designed the experience of the treehouses as a series of thresholds, of moments, an unfolding experience.

Arrival, leaving the day to day world behind, Transition, journeying through the woodland walkways, and then the Narnia experience of entering the treehouses and looking through, with the expansive views towards the rewilding landscape beyond. The treehouses create a rich and diverse interaction with the woodland and views, taking you almost imperceptibly between warm interior to covered and sheltered outdoor space and on to views from the open decks. From the beginning it’s been all about designing an immersive experience in nature.

A boardwalk down to a treehouse
Looking down at Wren from a boardwalk

The kitchen is found in a sheltered outdoor space. Throwing on a coat to cook and eat is an often too rare experience in the UK, and one that can be surprisingly enriching, especially with the sounds of the woodland and wetlands beyond. You can enjoy a morning cup of coffee sitting under a blanket, listening to the rain falling in the forest, or soaking in the bath under the shelter, watching the stars from the deck with a soundtrack of owls and foraging badgers. And of course wild summer cooking outside is hard to beat.

Interior light
Outdoor kitchen (photo by Gary Nunn)

The ambitions for the construction project aligned our values with Anselm’s for doing things well and in a low impact, sustainable manner.

We worked closely with Anselm and the Contractor, Greenheart UK, to carefully and thoughtfully design the process and buildings to ensure minimal disruption to the beautiful woodland. This meant using discreet steel screw piles to avoid tree roots and allow the treehouses to float amongst the trees. We also wanted to minimise the amount of carbon used in the construction of the treehouses, opting for the use of timber and natural materials as much as possible with almost no concrete used.

We’re proud to say a high proportion of the timber used was sourced in the UK, supporting growing local markets, forestry practices and further reducing the embodied carbon of the construction phase.

Exterior (photo by Gary Nunn)

We also wanted to ensure that through the design, guests would connect with nature as seamlessly as possible.

Perhaps a good example of this is in the balustrades around the deck areas. These needed to meet basic regulations for safety to stop guests falling, but it would be all too easy for them to become a visual and sensory barrier. In the end they are made from slender tensioned wire, strung like a harp.  

View out on to the rewilding landscape

Great projects have the ingredients of ambitious and thoughtful clients coupled with the pleasure of working closely with the skilled crafts people actually constructing them. It’s the thought and care that’s gone into this project that makes us believe experiencing these treehouses and their wonderful setting will invite you to imagine living differently.

These treehouses leave us with questions about how we might build and dwell in places differently, really connecting people with nature, and placing humans in right relationship with the natural world and each other.


Millar + Howard

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