Local Biota Living Graft Structure
Fab Tree Hab Village: 100% Living Habitat Prefabricated with Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) Reusable
Scaffolds to Graft Trees into Shape.
Nature's Home
Mitchell Joachim, Javier Arbona, Lara Greden

In congruence with ecology as the guiding principal, this living home is designed to be nearly entirely edible so as to
provide food to some organism at each stage of its life cycle. While inhabited, the home’s gardens and exterior
walls continually produce nutrients for people and animals. As a positive contribution to the ecosystem it supports an
economy comprised of truly breathing products not reconstituted or processed materials. Imagine a society based
on slow farming trees for housing structure instead of the industrial manufacture of felled timber.

The Fab Tree Hab presents a sophisticated methodology to grow homes from living native trees.  This 100% living
habitat is prefabricated using Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) reusable scaffolding, manufactured off-site in
advance.  These scaffold sections can be readily shipped and assembled to fit local tree and woody plant species.  
Therefore, we enable dwellings to be a fully integrated part of an ecological community.

Prefabricated templates cut from 3D computer files control the early vegetative development.   Vegetation is then
channeled into a specific geometry using the CNC scaffolds and grafted into shape.  After the plants are grafted or
pleached together, the scaffolding is removed to be reused for another dwelling.

The Fab Tree Hab concept resolutely accumulates the inscribed nuances that influenced the American Rustic
period.  Stemming from the insurgent writings of Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, and Alcott, America defined a
sensibility.  These authors represent an early mode of intention that was profoundly ecocentric.  Their notion of
dwelling was envisioned as retreats, poets’ bowers, hermitages, and summer cottages in a Sylvan style.  In
1847 it culminated in the self-made assembly of a crooked cedar and honeysuckle summer home by Thoreau and
Alcott for their friend Emerson in the midst of a cornfield.  This peculiar house severed as our point of departure.  
Here traditional anthropocentric doctrines are overturned and human life is subsumed within the terrestrial environs.  
Home, in this sense, becomes indistinct and fits itself symbiotically into the surrounding ecosystem.

Furthermore, the approach draws from Jeffersonian ideologies in regards to equalizing edification and ecology.  In
the mind of Thomas Jefferson, the measure of any single human gesture was its contribution to the individual’s
pursuit of happiness. He believed humans had natural rights. He devoted most his life to a revolution ensuring the
rights of agrarianism and education.  This was vital to a citizen’s personal livelihood in an agrarian economy
within a nascent system of government.  Universal access to education was critically linked to sustenance thus, the â
€œgentleman farmer.â€�   Jefferson essentially would advocate ecological principles applied to human habitat so
that each person can live off the land without detriments.  He could have never imagined a human race that ignored
the right to freedom from toxicity, carcinogens, and ozone depleting substances.  The Fab Tree Hab not only attempts
to provide a healthy biological exchange with the inhabitant, but also strives to contribute in a positive way to
everyone’s quality of life.

Modern design has essentially left behind these principles of symbiosis.  Although many individual and collective
efforts towards “sustainable� or “green design� of buildings are apparent internationally, derivative
design cannot address the underlying systemic nature of sustainability.  Fixing pieces of a puzzle fails to address the
interplaying complexities of the whole, and innovation is stifled by the need to work within given contexts.  Lack of
certainty in cause and effect is often cited as a reason for not developing ecologically sound practices, most notably
with green house gas reductions and improvement of indoor air quality.   However, the precautionary principle
implies that protection should be embraced deliberately even in the face of uncertainty.  Thus, instead of
incorporating materials that may impart less impact to the environment and human health - impacts which may
remain uncertain in extent - the Fab Tree Hab design seeks to protect and embrace the ecosystem as a source of
sustainability in the built environment.  Just as the modern biotechnology revolution owes its existence to the
intelligence in ecosystems at the molecular level, sustainable technologies for homes can also benefit from
biological, natural systems; however, starting at the molecular scale is not necessary.  Rather, as the intention of this
design explores, lumber maintained in its macro, living form becomes a superstructure.

The Fab Tree Hab is a living structure single-family home and encompassing ecology.  Tree trunks from the load-
bearing structure to which a weave of pleached branch ‘studs’ support a thermal clay and straw-based infill.  
The Fab Tree Hab plan accommodates three bedrooms (one on the second level), a bathroom, and an open living,
dining and kitchen area placed on the southern façade in accordance with passive solar principles.  Design details
pertaining to structure, elemental flows, renewal, raising the home, and budget are explored in the following

Structure, form, and growth
A methodology new to buildings yet ancient to gardening is introduced in this design - pleaching.  Pleaching is a
method of weaving together tree branches to form living archways, lattices, or screens.  The trunks of inosculate, or
self-grafting, trees, such as Elm, Live Oak, and Dogwood, are the load-bearing structure, and the branches form a
continuous lattice frame for the walls and roof.  Weaved along the exterior is a dense protective layer of vines,
interspersed with soil pockets and growing plants.  Scaffolds, cut from 3D computer files control the plant growth in
the early stages.  On the interior, a clay and straw composite insulates and blocks moisture, and a final layer of
smooth clay is applied like a plaster to dually provide comfort and aesthetics.  Existing homes built with cob (a clay
and straw composite) demonstrate the feasibility, longevity, and livability of the material as a construction material.  
In essence, the tree trunks of this design provide the structure for an extruded earth ecosystem, whose growth is
embraced over time.   Living examples of pleached structures include the Red Alder bench by Richard Reames and
the ‘Sycamore Tower’ by Axel Erlandson.

Life sustaining flows
Water, integral to the survival of the structure itself, is the pulmonary system of the home, circulating from the roof-top
collector, through human consumption, and ultimately exiting via transpiration.  A gray water stream irrigates the
gardens, and a filtration stream enters a Living Machine, where it is purified by bacteria, fish, and plants who eat the
organic wastes.  Cleaned water enters the pond, where it may infiltrate the soil or evaporate to the atmosphere.  
Water consumed by the vegetation eventually returns to the water cycle through transpiration, simultaneously cooling
the home.

Fundamental to the flux of the water cycle is solar radiation, which also drives heating and ventilation.  In the winter,
sunlight shines through the large south-facing windows, heating the open floor-space and thermal mass.  The
reverse is true in the summer, as the crown of the structure shades itself from extreme temperatures, instead using
the sun’s energy for photosynthesis.  Two levels of operable windows set up a buoyancy-driven ventilative flow,
drawing in cool air at floor level.  An active solar hot water system heats the home through an array of radiant floor
pipes.  Technology inspired by nature also explicitly engages it to provide water and warmth to the habitat.  The Hull
section illustrates design for water flows: a roof-top trough harvests water for human use; the plumbing system is
positioned to provide for gravity-induced flow and gray-water reuse; a composting system treats human waste and
will later return nutrients to the eco-system.

In congruence with ecology as the guiding principal, the home is designed to be nearly entirely edible so as to
provide food to some organism at each stage of its life.  While inhabited, the home’s gardens and exterior walls
produce food for people and animals.  The seasonal cycles help the tree structure provide for itself through
composting of fallen leaves in autumn.  The envisioned bioplastic windows, which would flex with the home as it
grows, would also degrade and return to the earth upon life’s end, as would the walls.  Seedlings started in
such a nutrient rich bed may provide the affordable building blocks for a new home typology, firmly rooted to place.  
Likewise, realization of living structures would introduce forest renewal to an urban setting.  Building of these homes
occurs throughout a longer time period, yet the benefits are enjoyed as long as the trees live, after which another
wave of renewal begins.  Exterior of the home embraces growth in its gardens and with bioplastic windows that are
envisioned to accept change in physical size over the home’s lifetime.

Rethinking budget
In departing from the modern sense of home construction, compilation of a budget for this prototype inherently
opens the debate surrounding decision-making and green architecture.  It is widely acknowledged that life-cycle
costing methods would provide more favor to conscientious home designs by including energy cost savings and,
more abstractly, accounting for reduction or elimination of externality costs.  However, this falls short of recognizing
the compound and continuous value of sustainable housing as an interweave of systems, and it still places too
much value on benefits received today as opposed to tomorrow or hundred years from now. By rejecting the
tendency towards immediacy and, likewise, first cost dependency, a true representation of sustainable value can be
achieved by explicitly recognizing the adaptive, renewal, cooperative, evolutionary, and longevity characteristics of the
home.  This design explores the concepts in that debate by including all five traits.

At the first stage of maturity, when the habitat is readied for human presence, cost outlays are similar in nature to
traditional construction, yet much less in magnitude based on their local, natural, and edible qualities.  Clay, gravel,
and straw can be obtained locally for certainly no more than the cost of concrete.  Plants and vegetation, many of
which can be started from seedlings when the structure is originally planted, will come at a nominal cost.  
Installation of heating, lighting, plumbing, electrical, and communication systems will be no more than that for a
typical home, and should be less due to the systems integrated design of natural ventilation, gravity water flow,
daylighting and passive solar.   As illustrated by this comparative assessment, realization of a living home certainly
fits within the realm of affordability.

Extra, or non-traditional, operating costs and required expertise over the life-time of the home include pest
management (insects that may threaten the structure) and maintenance of a Living Machine water treatment
system.  Technical demonstration and innovation is still needed for certain components, primarily the bioplastic
windows that accept growth of the structure and the management of flows across the wall section to assure that the
interior mains dry and critter-free.  All in all, the elapsed time to reach livability is greater than the traditional sense,
but so should be the health and longevity of the home and family.

Experiment in time
Above all, the raising of this home can be achieved at a minimal price, requiring only some time to complete its
structure.  Realization of these homes will begin as an experiment, and it is envisioned that thereafter, the concept of
renewal will take on a new architectural form - one of interdependency between nature and people.

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