Banyan Drive Tree House

July 2010
Mandeville Canyon, Los Angeles
Rockefeller Partners Architects

Banyan Drive Tree House
Photo © Eric Staudenmaier
Banyan Drive Tree House, Mandeville Canyon, Los Angeles

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Nestled in the back corner of a Brentwood hills estate with spectacular views of the Getty Center and downtown Los Angeles, this 172-square-foot accessory building was designed as a modern-day Tree House and more. It was conceived as a surprise gift from husband to wife. Reflective of her childhood affinity for tree houses, the intent was to recreate an adult environment for this now prominent art museum patron, art collector, and philanthropist. Not only does it function as a studio and lounge, the tree house is envisioned as a piece of art, drawing inspiration from the substantial collection curated throughout the property.

Design concept and solution: Critical to the execution of its design was finding a suitable tree. Having few options on the property it was decided to incorporate a live, but fallen tree as the anchor. The intention was not to attach directly to the tree, but rather hover above it, suggesting a delicate tension between building and nature. A visual connection between the two is achieved through a view port in the floor, and is symbolic of the hatch found in many backyard tree houses. Access is up a flight of concrete stairs, along a sculpturally sloped concrete wall and outdoor shower surround, then to an open metal and wood plank stair. This stair is our interpretation of the tree house “ladder”.

Located in a tight corner, the unique shape of the plan is influenced by the restrictions and setback requirements of the site. While relatively small, the space is equipped with modern-day amenities, such as a toilet, running water, fireplace, and daybed. Shelves serve as a resting place for small pieces of art and books, while a desk serves as a spot to read, write, and draw.

Carefully considered and executed details add to the richness of the space. Walnut paneling and floors, and Ipe-wood ceilings and decks, wrap every surface. Large floor-to-ceiling mahogany windows and doors frame canyon views while providing abundant natural light and ventilation. Window placement is carefully considered to control views toward the natural hillside, Getty Center and downtown Los Angeles, but away from the main house.

Because of the tight location, construction was a challenge. Skillfully placed angled steel columns serve as the superstructure and support the roof plane as well as the floor. The metal butterfly shape seemingly floats above the space and a glass clerestory serves as the connective tissue between roof and wall. The exterior is clad in planks of cedar, for beauty and durability. All materials including the stainless steel rails and exposed concrete walls were chosen for their longevity and ease of maintenance.

For all of its complexity and challenges the reward begins once inside, as the experience of being in a piece of sculpture evokes the sense of that little sanctuary we all felt in our childhood tree house.

Total construction cost: Undisclosed

Rockefeller Partners Architects
201 Arena St.
El Segundo, CA 90245
P: 310.335.6000
F: 310.335.6060

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