The Tropical Arboretum of Vegetal Dwelling: Fabled Treehouse Phylogenies

by Joshua Stevens (MLA ’19)

The institution of the arboretum emerged from a tradition of using landscape as a tool for exerting power through knowledge-based systems. The classification and naming of plants oversimplify vegetation as known, and therefore controllable, elements in the world. Additionally, the collection of tropical plant specimens and their containment in foreign greenhouses reinforce the colonialism of temperate imperial powers.

Arboreta may be described as houses of trees where diversity dwells and is systematized for human use. But the inversion of this system is critical to the interrogation of this flawed institution. Rather than a house of trees, its reverse, the treehouse, is a powerful tool for exploring landscape design by virtue of its extreme versatility. The treehouse, as an integrated system of human dwelling and vegetal growth, may be perceived as an intersection of attributes: it is both artificial and organic, detached and integrated, terrestrial and aethereal.

This thesis proposes a networked arboretum of treehouses that challenge traditional methods of classification and the institution of the arboretum itself. The arboretum is created through the design of 23 treehouses, each of which seek to explore the habitation through the innate characteristics of a particular “tree” species. By employing the idea of tree architecture as described by Halle, Oldeman, and Tomlinson, The Tropical Arboretum of Vegetal Dwelling explores the intersecting notions of morphology and dwelling through hybridized vegetal and animal systems.


• How do we create spaces and methods of design that account for multiple, intersecting bodies of knowledge?

• What does it mean to consider both biological, cultural spiritual systems in the creation of imaginary futures and systems?

• How can we embrace the notion of the imaginary in order to create new forms of ontologies?