Treehouse Art Challenges Urban Perceptions

The Threshold Art and Design Collective with their treehouse art.

Treehouses are being installed in the trees of downtown Edmonton, Canada.

University of Alberta industrial design grads Sebastian Sauvé-Hoover, Brad Comis, and Danielle Soneff, operating as the Threshold Art and Design Collective, came up with this treehouse art idea.  They each designed treehouses based on actual houses found in the city.

The treehouse art is being featured as part of a city-funded art project and will be on view in Churchill Square until September and will be lit up at night to showcase the attraction and allow viewing around the clock.  Each treehouse, built with wood donated from Home Hardware, also features a recording.

“What we wanted to do is create a contrast by putting something in a place where it’s not supposed to be,” said artist and designer Brad Comis. “Clashing those two elements [treehouses in the downtown core] maybe will make people think about them in different ways.”

Thinking about people looking at the treehouse art, Comis explained, “We want to have them look at them and think, Why is there a suburban home suddenly in the downtown core, right in the very heart of our city in this concrete jungle? What are the roles of low-density housing versus living in the downtown core?”

“We’re really hoping that it’s going to generate some dialogue about the way we choose to live our lives in urban areas…that difference between private and public spaces,” said Danielle Soneff, reflecting on the project.

Their teacher, Jesse Sherburne added to the conversation: “The whole point of these is asking, Can we live differently? These [treehouses] are representative of urban sprawl. [They] question some of the scale, the needs Edmontonians feel. Do we need this much space?”

Edmonton Arts Council member Dawn Saunders-Dahl says the selection committee likely chose to bring this treehouse art project to Edmonton’s streets because of “that nostalgia of treehouses and how neat it would be in a really public area.”  She’s also keenly aware of the political aspects of the treehouse art project:

Art is a good way to address those issues and start a conversation. It’s a great opportunity to talk about homelessness, or all the houses that look the same. That’s what good art does — stimulate conversation.”

One thing’s for certain: even in this age of technology, treehouses continue to be relevant.  In fact, in an era where we’re bombarded with stimulation and complexity, perhaps, they’re more relevant than ever.  Treehouses are a powerful symbol of innocence and imagination.  They remind us of our relationship to a rapidly evaporating wilderness in ourselves and on our planet.  They challenge the project of endless growth and compel us to question what it’s for and what it all means.

If you get a chance to see this treehouse art project, please let us know what you think!