In a wooded area along the Hudson River, a unique structure is slowly taking shape. This building, however, is not conventional; it’s designed to house not just humans but also animals and plants. What sets it apart is that it’s constructed from, or rather, by growing trees. This groundbreaking project is the brainchild of Terreform One, a non-profit organization focusing on art, architecture, and urban design, led by architect Mitchell Joachim.

The concept of this tree-integrated building had its roots around 2002 when Habitat for Humanity initiated a design competition seeking fresh approaches to suburban housing. Joachim, pursuing a Ph.D. in architecture at MIT, collaborated with researchers Lara Greden and Javier Arbona to explore ecological processes for large-scale housing construction. Their goal was to leverage computing, fabrication systems, and ecological principles to guide nature in creating usable structures.

The team delved into ways to accelerate tree growth and initially considered hydroponic methods. However, they shifted their focus to biomass farms, where trees are grown densely and quickly for energy production. The resulting Fab Tree Hab pavilion now standing in a New York forest is composed of replanted trees harvested from a commercial biomass farm.

The pavilion, resembling an upside-down boat hull, features vertical ribs formed by clusters of young trees, gradually grafted together into thicker pillars. The unique architecture creates spaces between the trees, outfitted with biodegradable planters and habitats made from materials like hand-crocheted jute and bioplastic.

Described as a “land coral” or “terrestrial reef,” the structure attracts diverse flora and fauna. Planters halfway up the pavilion allow for the addition of more trees as it matures, providing the potential for the building to grow taller over time. The structure, currently a fusion of research, art, and natural habitat, includes a wooden platform for human activities like educational events and forest observation.

Joachim envisions the Fab Tree Hab as a prototype that could revolutionize construction. He sees the system being scaled up and transformed into a kit, allowing people to grow structures such as garages, pergolas, or even entire houses. The long-term goal is to establish an engineered living material that adheres to specific rules, paving the way for a sustainable alternative to traditional construction materials like concrete and steel.

By Impact Lab