“We used to spend hours and hours in the trees, for the pleasure of reaching as high as we could, and finding a good perch on which to look down at the world below.” Just like Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees, the architect Daniele Del Grande one day decided to climb trees and build houses up there.
Spreading limbs and open branches cannot be overloaded, yet it can become a living component of a comprehensive structure which elevates and brings you in the heart of the plant.
“It started out as a joke, when a friend asked me to help him build a treehouse for his kids in Capalbio, in Tuscany, by the sea,” Del Grande told Olive Oil Times. “Since then, my workmate Carlo Romagnoli and I started to think about the construction of structures on trees from an architectural perspective, and we developed a system which aims not only to ensure stability, safety, and durability but also to engage a dialogue with the tree.”
They realized that by hanging lifting straps on specific points of a tree, a wooden structure can be hung without completely being fixed, in order to encourage movement, growth, and adjustments over time.
“Hence, we founded Abitalbero and in the last years we built houses which I can describe as almost imaginative and impossible,” Del Grande explained. “It is necessary to reach a certain level of symbiosis with the tree which is a living thing. You have to highlight it, take care of it and make sure that the structure does not damage it during growth.”
A basic maintenance in the long term is required as the tree, that is the load-bearing structure, changes over time, and because the construction element of the house requires specific care, depending on the choices of wood.
“I looked forward to working with the olive tree, that requires attention due to its structure,” said the architect. “Spreading limbs and open branches cannot be overloaded, yet it can become a living component of a comprehensive structure which elevates and brings you in the heart of the plant.”
Just recently, he was asked to design this kind of structure at La Madonnella Agricola, a farm with a guesthouse and a restaurant in Cesano, in the green belt of Rome, run by the artist Giulio Rigoni and the art historian Mariangela Ascatigno.
“We moved to London for a period and I worked in a garden center dedicated to sale and design,” said Ascatigno. “It was an enriching experience and when we moved back to Italy, we cooperated with a biodynamic farm, attending olive oil tasting courses, practicing pruning and learning everything about olive cultivation, and we decided to create an urban farm with a small olive grove.”
Frantoio, Leccino and Moraiolo are biodynamically grown in this beautiful piece of countryside in the north end of the city, previously belonged to a Baron that, just like the character of Calvino’s novel, had built a platform to spend time in an olive tree. Rigoni and Ascatigno decided to start again from that project and build a structure which incorporates more olive trees.
The bark of the olive tree is very sensitive to pressure, which markedly boosts growth in the point where it is exacted. Where needed, the portion of contact between lifting straps and bark is expanded with joists, which help to support the structure and can be substituted over time.
“Our guests will enjoy oil tasting sessions literally in the heart of the olive trees, and our first harvest will be particularly comfortable,” remarked the owners of La Madonnella Agricola.