BRANCHING OUT; Kent State Magazine; Summer 2016

Kent State graduates have created tree houses—on exhibit this summer at the Cleveland Botanical Garden—that encourage us to turn off our electronic devices and embrace the outdoors.

Photographs by Melissa Olson


The tree house is an iconic image of childhood—if you didn’t have one as a child, you probably wish you had. Even as adults, a tree house reminds us of a simpler time, when the long days of summer stretched before us, when we played outdoors for hours, free from glowing screens and structured activities.

Over the past three decades, changes in agriculture, society and technology have moved us more and more indoors, and many people, especially children, are seldom exposed to natural settings. The Branch Out exhibit at the Cleveland Botanical Garden is out to change that—and inspire us all to go outside and play!

The botanical garden sent out requests for proposals for a tree house competition last year. Judges—led by Pete Nelson, star of television show Treehouse Masters—reviewed the submissions and selected five designs, four of which are by graduates of Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design. Each tree house explores a theme related to learning and fun.

“We set records for our summer attendance last year with this exhibit,” says Jen Anderson, director of guest services and special exhibits. “Because the tree houses were exciting to people, we wanted to keep the exhibit for another year and encourage outdoor play.”

Three new tree houses have been added to the display this summer, and the exhibit is available through August 28. Learn more at


Acoustic CanopyAcoustic Canopy

Designer: Alan Hipps, B.S. ’08, M. Arch. ’09, Sap + Iron | Design Build

Builder: Sap + Iron | Design Build*

Theme: Music

What’s Up: Inspired by the ‘golden section spiral’—a familiar ratio found in nature—the layout resembles a treble clef. Everything in the structure is based off the number eight (the number of notes in an octave). Rhythm instruments allow visitors to make their own music. The tree house is suspended from branches by cables and anchored to a dawn redwood tree with bolts designed so the tree can envelop them as its trunk expands.  

Twisted TreeTwisted Tree

Project Architect: Mike Christ, B.Arch. ’95, Vocon

Builder: Donley’s

Theme: Play

What’s Up: This multi-level wooden structure promotes play within its winding frame. Visitors can ride on a swing at the ground level and play wind chimes made of electrical conduit while climbing towards the tree canopy.

Giant Jack in the PulpitGiant Jack in the Pulpit

Designer: Steve Bell, B.S. ’07, M. Arch. ’08, ThenDesign Architecture (TDA)

Builder: Today’s Lifestyle Construction, Inc.

Theme: Art

What’s Up: Inspired by the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, this tree house enables visitors to climb inside a giant woodland flower and experience nature in a whole new way.

Note: Only on exhibit last year.


Designer: Mykie Hrusovski, B.S. ’08, Sap + Iron | Design Build

Builder: Sap + Iron | Design Build*

Theme: Reading

What’s Up: Built around the trunk of a tulip poplar, this ‘tree inside a house’ acts as a reading room, with slanted slots in one wall for books and a place to write poetry. Reminiscent of a one-room schoolhouse, the structure is wrapped in western red cedar and hand charred with a torch, which protects it from weathering, bugs and rot.

*Members of  Sap + Iron | Design Build include Charles Frederick, B. Arch. ’96, interim director of Kent State’s graduate landscape architecture program, Alan Hipps, B.S. ’08, M.Arch. ’09 and Mykie Hrusovski, B.S. ’08.

POSTED: Wednesday, August 3, 2016 09:20 AM
Updated: Saturday, December 3, 2022 01:02 AM