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Colorful scarves hanging from a tree.

"Tree Scarves" is one of 12 fantasy tree houses featured in the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum's "Totally Terrific TreeHouses" exhibit June 5 through October 10.

Not your childhood tree house

The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum takes tree houses beyond the imagination in its new summer exhibit

By Pauline Oo

Published May 26, 2004

Fur and feathers can fly when you sit together with birds, bats, bugs, and cats to hash out the best way to live in a tree. "Things got out of hand at my focus group, and the animals started eating each other," says Bruce Lemke, a University alumnus and landscape architect with Plantscape, Inc. "But the birds were nice. They were the only ones who really cooperated with me so I decided to do things their way." So Lemke built a "Birds' Nest Tree Home." His giant-sized bird's nest, complete with two five-foot-tall eggs, is among the 12 fantasy creations featured in the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum's "Totally Terrific TreeHouses" exhibit June 5 through October 10. The juried exhibition, which drew more than 30 entries from across the state, celebrates trees as sources of amusement and adventure. "This was a fun project," says Lemke, who spent about a month designing and bringing to life his vision of a tree house. "The arboretum and the University gave everybody a chance to think of tree houses not only as places where you sit or read comic books, and they provided all of us a real opportunity to have some fun with design. Usually there are so many stipulations [when you are asked to design something]. You have to come within budget, you have to meet every code in the book, you have to meet all your clients' whims..." Instead, the arboretum offered what Lemke calls loose rules: "wow" our visitors and don't harm our trees, which meant participants couldn't dig around a tree or under the ground where the roots lay and they couldn't penetrate or attach any permanent devices to a tree.

Grand opening

The Minnestoa Landscape Arboretum will host a grand opening for the exhibit on Saturday, June 12, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. At the event, which is free with the $7 gate admission, families can discover the basics of building a tree house or playhouse, join a kid-friendly Tree Tour, and enjoy live swing music by the Gypsy Jazz Quartet.

For Vanessa Sethi, the competition was a chance to mix two of her favorite elements--fabric and color. "Tree Scarves" will beckon you from afar to enter its rainbow palate of 15-foot nylon scarves hanging off the branches of a massive white oak. "The colors originated from the idea of overlaying a color wheel onto the [natural design] of the tree," explains Sethi, an intern architect with Meyer, Scherer, and Rockcastle Architects, Ltd. "The darker colors are in the center and they become lighter at the edge. Like a tree, which becomes thinner at the edge and thicker in the middle." Like Lemke and his whimsical birdhouse, Sethi sought to create a space that would titillate both children and adults. "I want people just to be delighted and maybe dream a little bit when they're in it," she says.

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