The Tree Condo

Perhaps as a child you built a house in the trees? The treehouse was a special place, away from parents and guardians, above the day-to-day grind of lessons and exams. It was unique to you and your siblings. It played its part in dorm feasts, rituals of acceptance, building a new world. Adults were not allowed to go there but pets were. An occasional friendly lizard or grasshopper cohabited. As you got older the treehouse was used less and less. One day, when you were out at a party, there was storm and it blew down, shattered. Life had moved on. It would not be rebuilt.

As we move inexorably into the urban jungle the trees thin out. Not in Singapore, thank goodness, but in most cities. Even in Singapore you would not be encouraged to build your treehouse any more. Concrete has taken over from wood, permanence from passing. Except that no concrete is permanent and many trees live for hundreds, occasionally thousands, of years. But trees are prettier, even than the exotic designs of enthusiastic architects. A building is a building for economic reasons. A tree is a tree for nature’s reasons.

So why shouldn’t we fashion buildings to have the same beauty as nature? Nature’s tallest are there because they need the sun to survive not to win a Height Competition. Nature’s shrubs are pretty in their own right. Nature has green not asbestos-grey, and golden-brown, not plastic-pretend. Can we simulate nature’s colours, changing colours for the seasons, the thing you miss most in cities. Where are the urban oak courtyards? Where is the country cottage condo? Where is the leafy lane highway to saunter along? Where is the urban treehouse?

Our wealth creation seems to be making a faster and faster circuit with little time to ponder, small incentive to stop. “What is this world if full of care, we have no time to stop and stare?” We stare at the city marvels – all the longest, tallest, oldest, whitest, somethingist. Are we forgetting to look at a tree in a field and discover where our heritage, our life and our legacy are in it?

Maybe we could have a design competition to come up with Natural Urban Beauty (NUB)? The most beautiful business block, the most enchanting natural condo, the winning urban shack. Could the streetlights be the stars of a mountain trail? Might the pavements be somehow softer, greener, earthier? Could some of the walls be like hedges? Why would we bother to go to the expense of replicating nature in the city? The answer is simple. Nature is where we came from.

Urban living pressures are making us harder, less feeling people. We observe but we do not contemplate. We admire but we do not sense. We rightly aspire to achieve a goal but forget that the journey is more important than the destination. Our drive is externalised, leaving us like demented frogs. It should be equally internalised, building a character that the only person who matters can admire. Look in the mirror to see who I mean.

In one of the catastrophes that will surely happen over the next 100 years we shall need to grow our own onions, harvest our own precious water supply from the skies, share our possessions and try to understand our next door neighbour. Urbanisation is working against all these things.

Can we bring a taste of the countryside to the city?

We can if we want to.

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