Castles in the air: The world's greatest treehouses

There's nothing new about building a house in the trees. But the creators of these extraordinary examples are taking things to a different level.

Charlotte Philby
Saturday 08 November 2008 01:00 GMT

Following the recent closure of my local playground, which was fraught with life-threatening devices – the swings, the Jungle Gym, the horror! – it seemed inevitable that a nearby treehouse would be next in line for the chop. And you can see why the very concept of a playhouse in the air would have council jobsworths worried: a rickety platform elevated high above ground level, lodged in a structure potentially ridden with Butt rot.

Add the hazards of a water-logged rope ladder and a giddying lack of oxygen, and we have a Health and Safety nightmare on our hands. When you think about it like that, it's a wonder any of us ever made it to adulthood. And yet how many of us wanted to grow up in the first place?

Nothing better embodies childhood's lingering fantasy than the treehouse: a private observatory in which to retreat from the constraints of everyday life. What more appropriate home for J M Barrie's "boy who never grew up" than a secluded den in the sky; or indeed for Edgar Rice Burroughs' feral child who, raised by apes, rejects modern society as soon as he encounters it, in favour of a cabin shrouded in leaves. Throw into the mix Home Improvement Packs and planning laws, and it seems Peter Pan and Tarzan had the right idea.

Of course, there comes a point when we must abandon our pre-pubescent fantasies and return to earth. Or must we? Apparently the Ewoks were one step ahead of the times, as the creators of the amazing treehouses shown

on these pages will attest. In search of a "secret corner, which, for a time, shelters you from everything and everyone", Alain Laurens, the founder of Le Cabane Perchée (The Treehouse Aloft), and his partners Daniel Defour and Ghislain André, fulfilled a lifelong ambiton. Creating awe-inspiring homes suspended high above conventional society, they've proven that when it comes to building a treehouse, the sky is the only limit. Forget the damp, haphazard structures of our childhoods, the treehouse has finally branched out.

Of course, the idea of a residence in the sky is hardly new. Entire societies have long dwelt in extended tree forts, some of which are – quite literally – as safe as houses. The Korowai tribe of Irian Jaya reside in tree-top homes stretching as much as 40 metres across. While in northern India, animist tribes have lived for centuries in advanced housing systems, rigged amid the branches. But now, combining traditional building methods with modern design, the team behind Le Cabane Perchée has taken things to a new level – creating elevated retreats to rival the highest-spec ground-level pads.

Built over the past eight years in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Portugal, these glorious creations boast extraordinary spiral staircases, solar-powered office spaces and net bridges between trees; all with a commitment to "ecological responsibility". One must surely conclude, the only way is up.

'Treehouse Living: 50 Innovative Designs' is published by Abrams, £19.99

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