Architect Sees Unique Challenge in Olive Treehouses

The architect Daniele Del Grande created a cozy platform on olive trees at La Madonnella Agricola, a biodynamic farm in the countryside of Rome.

Feb. 1, 2017
By Ylenia Granitto

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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.- Daniele Del Grande

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.


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