In Austin, Texas, USA an 18 meter (about 50') tall abstracted tree made from reclaimed old school, home and barn lumber is growing in the new five story offices of the HomeAway corporation.
Last summer I was contacted by the Lauck Group, the design firm for the new HomeAway offices to house 650 people after they had seen work I did several years ago at both Smiley Media and The Livestrong Foundation also in Austin. They had the concept for a huge tree to grow upwards through four floors of thier new building already started. The tree will be seen from outside the building and would house numerous actual birdhouses, an element of the HomeAway corporate branding. The lauck Group approached me asking if this concept could be done and if I would take thier basic idea as a launching point to develop a full size sculptural solution, source its components, fabricate and install it in the new building.
I said yes.
Step one is to start drawing. I take the ideas and any building plans that are availabe and just start sketching. I researched tree types, what's local? what will fit? does it become realistic or abstracted? is it detailed or amorphic? so many variables to consider, and then let them all go and see what wants to come off my pen and onto paper. Here are some of those drawings:
tree base texture study and material calculations
exterior elevation study through windows
build sequence floor by floor
concept phase one - lower two floors. Several months of concept sketching and narrative development led to a finalized strategy agreed to by all parties involved. I estimated an average 4 weeks on-site build for each of the four floors. We set a budget and proceeded with integrating the tree sculpture into the general building construction schedule. I hauled Flo, my trusty 31' 1977 Airstream trailer and home away from home, all the way to Austin for project kick-off August 1st, 2014.
Once in Austin I had to secure large amounts of wood to create with. HomeAway cares for and manages thousands of homes for people around the world. I decided that the wood needed to come from homes, salvaged and reclaimed from structures that had people and families in them. I wanted the energy echo of these relationships to be "in" the wood I used. I visited a number of reclaimed wood and salvage lots around the areas and slowly, truckload by truckload, assembled several thousand board feet of old Texas barn board, beams, house trim, molding and flooring. Most items were stained, marked up and punctured by nails and screws. I like this as just like people the materials show the effects of age and of living. These marks are not flaws and some purveyors of new materials would have you believe, they are wisdom and experience indicators... this will be a wise tree so the more the marring the better.
base progress 90% on 09.15.14
The final full tree will incorporate analog and digital art. The roots, base, trunk and branch structure is all of wood. Throughout the structure will appear inserted interprative birdhouse artworks created by local Austin artists. These may be actual birdhouses or abstrated visions of "home" in the loose form of a birdhouse. The tree canopy then will be a video-mapped projection shot at a film adhered to the glass of the perimeter wall through an array of five digital projectors fed by a control laptop. The digital content will be forever changing. It may one day (or minute) be a green leafed tree, the next a snow covered bare branch skeleton, the next fish swimming across the canopy, the next seasons greetings. No longer will HomeAway need to decorate and un-decorate the tree, its all done on the digital video file. Here are some visualizations of how this will appear from the exterior:
video mapped canopy version A
video mapped canopy version B
video mapped canopy version C
video mapped canopy version D