Japanese architect Nozomi Nakabayashi’s unique Dorset tree house, designed for a writer, is both magical and pragmatic…



In a woodland clearing in Dorset – with the fossil-lined Jurassic coastline to one side and a patch of ancient oak to the other –  Nozomi Nakabayashi, a Japanese architect who is a graduate of the Architecture Association’s Design and Make programme, has built a tree house for a writer. The bespoke structure, built with the requirements of immersion and gathering in mind, is at once a part of its surrounding landscape and yet also separate – a transitional space between the rural idyll outside and sophisticated comfort inside.

Insulated using cork, the tree house is entirely breathable, inhaling and exhaling with its environment. With a sunken bed hidden beneath the floorboards, a wood-burning fire on which to cook and heat the room and a series of windows located at different heights to capture different lights, the tree house plays with the idea of the tree house as somewhere secretive; offering an otherworldly and magical escape. 

Aside from their presence in fairy tales, Nakabayashi also drew on factual examples of the tree house – including a cluster of 200 house built in the Paris suburbs in the 19th century, high up in the chestnut trees, which hosted guests who would listen to music while feasts of chicken and champagne were raised to the tree tops in baskets. 

Drawing on Nakabayashi’s childhood in Tokyo, where the purpose of a given room is dictated by the time of day, beds are revealed and hidden again on tatami floors. Doors slide away to allow more space to socialise, or put in place for privacy.
Built without on-site electricity, the design required Nakabayashi to spend months on end from first light to dusk on the project; obeying the seasons, altering and tweaking the design as she went to make the tree house durable and secure in the face of hostile weather and the rhythms of nature. Working alone a lot of the time, she nonetheless built up a community of sorts around her build, with local farmers lending equipment and vehicles and timber framers and timber engineers labouring over the Douglas Fir native to Dorset – savouring the opportunity to see a project from beginning to very end. 

Nakabayashi’s structure is a mixture of poetry and pragmatism: with the bough of the old oak tree it sits on unable to withhold the weight of the house, the structure was equipped with stilts and an elevated observation desk, raised four metres off the forest floor using reclaimed telegraph poles. From here the writer can sit above a beloved lake on his land from a place that is as epic as it is quiet and still.

Words Jeanette Farrell
Photos Henrietta Williams