Subverting the notion of the tree house as a place of solitude, these stacked clusters of cabins at Xiaoshan Xianghu Resort in China stress social interaction above all else. The architects of WH Studio envisioned these new guest quarters as a series of family nests staggered around naked tree trunks, set up to interplay with both each other and their natural surroundings.
Contrary to appearances, the architects didn’t kill any living trees or strip them of their leaves for this project. They instead created faux dead trees to serve as a decorative framework for each cluster, piercing through layers of elevated terraces and the rooftops of the cabins themselves. Each individual cabin faces a different direction, offering unique views of the vegetated mountains around them.
Located within the hotel district of Senbo Resort Hangzhou, these “nest residences” are envisioned as “a group of cabins landing on the branches,” almost as if they were living creatures themselves. The architects wanted to avoid over-realism by adding fake leaves to the trunks, deciding instead to mimic the way some animals choose to nest in dead trees. Since the clusters are nestled within the forest, however, they maintain a relatively convincing appearance.
The WH Studio team explains that “the design of stacking abstract volumes of residential prototype has precedents in Europe and Japan, but most are more inclined to geometrical manipulation and often limited to the internal experience. Based on the commercial character of this project and the mountain environment, we focused on the balance between abstraction and image, indoor and outdoor, geometry and nature.”
“The experience of the Tree House starts with ‘tree climbing.’ We pay special attention to the outdoor path and experience the zigzagging path like ‘climbing,’ outdoor terraces of different heights are like ‘tree branches’ for little rest, and the house is equivalent to the ‘fruit’ of the tree. The path has the experience of winding, light and shade changes, while the terrace is a comfortable outdoor activity space. Although each Tree House contains several artificial trees with structural functions, it is conceptually a ‘big tree’ composed of three elements of ‘path-platform-house.’”
The six cabins in each cluster assume one of two forms: a simple gabled style, and another with four rooftop slopes (with the latter meant to evoke the feel of a fairytale cabin). One style also has a balcony tucked beneath its roof for more introversion, while the other has a projecting balcony for more extroversion. The architects express regrets that their original design was a bit watered down once it was actually built. More specifically, they hoped for a stronger fairytale effect, with shingled roofs and slides leading from the higher cabins to the lower platforms.
Whether it was a result of budgeting or just the clients’ preferences, the architects’ original designs were ultimately altered for a more streamlined modern look. But that hasn’t dampened the popularity of the cabins, which have quickly become a glamorous check-in point for both celebrities and the wannabe Insta-famous. WH Studio theorizes that this warm reception comes from the cabins’ ability to meet “the psychological needs of people to return to primitive imagination.”
There’s definitely a little bit of an uncanny Disneyland feel to these tree house nests, but in a good way, and indeed, it would be hard to resist a selfie or two while staying here.