How Are These Magical Tree Spheres Saving Our Forests?
29th June 2016
You only have to see a picture of Eve suspended in the trees at Free Spirit Tree Spheres Resort in Canada to immediately want to book yourself in for the night. Perfectly round and hanging from the treetops, these remarkable accommodation pods offer guests a unique opportunity to connect with a forest environment in the most natural way possible by spending a night in the trees.
Blue Forest got in touch with Tom Chudleigh, the visionary craftsman who first dreamed up the idea in the early 1990’s, to find out more about these spherical treehouses (named Eve, Eryn and Melody – with Luna and Flora under development in the workshop). ‘I grew up dreaming of treehouses and it’s a space that feels like magic to me. Architecture is a way of shaping and creating a habitat that reflects a feeling and works in harmony with the environment. The sphere is a form of architecture that reflects that thought of unity and feeling of oneness. There are many spaces that have that magic feel on the planet and this is one model of accessing them without destroying the environment.’
That really is the key word behind Tom’s vision – environment. The tree spheres are designed to fit harmoniously into a forest setting without altering it and, as accommodation, can reduce the human footprint to near zero. The sphere’s design utilises bio-mimicry (an innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies – biomimicry.org) to create a safe yet environmentally friendly environment for humans to live in the forest. The sphere’s design mimics that of a nut shell; light with a tough skin, its shape distributes any impact stress and resists puncture or cracking. A sphere is tethered by 3 nearly vertical ropes to strong points on three separate trees allowing it to be securely suspended just like a spider’s web. This method enables the sphere and tree to move freely with a minimal risk of damage and gives guests the sensation of floating.
The tree spheres are all hand crafted pieces of art and it takes three years to finish each one. The first two spheres were made of wood – Eve of yellow cedar with a diameter of 2.8 m, and Eryn of sitka spruce, with a diameter of 3.2 m. From Eryn, the larger sphere, Tom and his team made a mold from which they made a third sphere from fibreglass named Melody.
A few years back, the Free Spirit Spheres team purchased a set of 3 strain gauges which can accurately measure a push or pull force from between 0 to 15,000 lb. They are digital devices which send a signal to a computer where the force can be recorded. ‘We’ve been recording things ever since”, Tom explained. Not only have they been measuring the stiffness and load carrying capacity of various tree types and sizes, they have also carried out extensive work on the effects of adverse weather conditions on a forest. By putting the strain gauges on the ropes that support a sphere and recording the variations in tension throughout a whole storm cycle for example, they are able to collect valuable information on the amount of pressure a tree and its roots has to withstand.
This research goes a long way to collect vital data which not only develops our knowledge of forest dynamics, but can also help to make treehouse designs even safer for both trees and the people who want to live in them. Free Spirit Tree Spheres have a long-term goal in mind: to protect old growth forests by creating an eco-friendly low footprint resort that encourages people to reconnect with nature, and also generates enough money to be self-sufficient. “I want to live harmoniously within nature and not destroy it. To enable people to move into and inhabit the forest without taking it down first…In this way the foundation depends on maintaining a healthy ecosystem…an eco-tourism based sustainable use for these nuggets of natural beauty,” says Tom.
If you are interested in finding out more about Tom’s mission, or you would like to stay in Eve, Eryn or Melody then visit www.freespiritspheres.com for availability and booking.