My Architectural Roots: Home is Where the Tree Fort Is

John Zorich

November 21, 2018

I have been making forts as long as I can remember. In fact, it’s one of my earliest memories. Me, my brother and sister making a blanket tent in our game room. We used volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Dad was a salesman) to pin down the corners. It was exciting to create a place that was all ours.

From there, the seed was planted. Soon, I ventured out of the house looking for the place to create my next getaway. It was a pine tree in the far corner of the yard, hemmed in on two sides by a chain link fence. I cleared out space about four feet under the canopy and used the fence as a starting point for the walls of the enclosure. By this time, I had begun to use my father’s saws and hammers. On occasion, Dad would look for those tools. They were likely rusting under a piece of carpet in my hideaway. That fort was cool even though Mom could still easily call down to the end of the yard or my siblings could drop in whenever they pleased.

It would take a few more years until I was able to go out into the woods near my house to continue my pursuit of creating places of my own. I would gather scrap wood from the neighborhood for my building supplies. Although I had graduated to a more complex structure, they were always short-lived. Sooner or later, the older kids in the neighborhood would knock them down. It was time to go up. Up into the canopy of the trees. Up into the sky.

After my initial experience, I knew it wasn’t enough just to build a fort in tree. It needed to be high enough to make it difficult for other kids to get to. I found the perfect tree. It had no limbs or branches for the first 25 feet, then opened up into a strong network of branch structure. I spent every day after school and every weekend working on the tree house. Just getting the rungs of the ladder nailed into the tree seemed to take forever.

Finally, I was up there. I constructed a small platform with a trap door as a staging area to bring up supplies. I spent the next year building it. I didn’t know at the time that this would be the spark that lit the architecture fire.

I now have a 16-year-old son. He recently expressed a desire to build a tree house in our backyard. A place he could call his own; somewhere to do homework and dream about his future. I was all in.

It has been great working with him on this project. I have since traded in the hand saw for a circular saw; nails have been replaced with decking screws. However, the excitement remains. I have rediscovered the joy of my childhood while helping him create his own personal space. To find his freedom like I once did. To experience that sense of place I once craved.

Once the platform was finished, my son and I laid up there, looking into the sky, discussing our ideas of what the tree house enclosure would be. Could be. The dreaming had begun.

Post Script: Ethan, John’s son, now sleeps, does homework or just hangs out in his treehouse…often to get away from his parents.

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