The world of architecture offers so many exciting opportunties for humans to create dwellings that interact with the environment. From first grade through fifth, students in our community study how people live around the world. Students enjoy learning about different dwellings and how they are constructed.
I decided to present an exciting and fun architectural challenge to my fourth and fifth graders. I asked the students to create a tree house that reflected their own interests and personalities--a tree house of their own. I knew that this could be a lesson in which students could incorporate the familiar elements of art and principles of design. Students could let their imaginations flow and incorporate their ideas into the world around them.
Tree Houses in History, Art, and Literature
Throughout history, people have been fascinated with tree houses. The Romans made tree seats. During the Italian Renaissance, the Medicis built an extravagant tree house that housed fountains, a marble table, seats, and two spiraling marble staircases on opposite sides of the tree. Some of the most famous tree houses exist in the imaginations of authors and artists. One of the most famous fictional tree houses of all was created by writer Johann David Wyss: the home of the Swiss Family Robinson. A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh and his friends visited Owl's tree house in the Hundred Acre Wood. In the triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch painted a figure that lived in a surreal tree house.
I began by asking my students if any of them had constructed a hut, fort, or tree house. Students excitedly shared experiences, and discussed construction problems and successes. We discussed dwellings of people who lived in different parts of the world. We brainstormed how and why certain cultures created homes and buildings with specific styles and materials. I showed pictures of buildings designed in a variety of architectural styles as well as paintings that depicted different forms of architecture throughout history. We discussed how the architect Frank Lloyd Wright created his buildings in harmony with nature.
I asked students to design and create a tree house that reflected their personal interests and personalities. The tree houses could be realistic, imaginary, or a combination of both. The final tree house projects were mixed-media compositions using a minimum of three different materials. The background should depict one of the four seasons and interact with nature in some way.
Students began their compositions by making preliminary sketches of their tree houses. They answered a variety of questions to initiate the thinking process such as, "How many trees will I need for my house?" "Is this a house of the past, present, or future?" "Is my house realistic or imaginary?" "What materials will I need to construct my tree house?" "Is my house architecturally sound?" "How many people can fit into my house?"
Constructing the Tree Houses
After the preliminary sketches were made, students received a 12 x 18" (31 x 46 cm) piece of construction paper. Several students chose black to depict their tree houses at night; others chose white in order to create a watercolor wash in the background. For the tree trunks and branches, students used pieces of 6 x 18" (15 x 46 cm) paper in different shades of gray and brown. …