Architects: Lord, Aeck & Sargent (Atlanta office)
Location: Rutledge, Georgia, USA
Client: Camp Twin Lakes
Creative director: Cynthia Gentry, founder of Atlanta Taskforce on Play (Atlanta)
Structural Engineer: Penta Engineering Group, Inc. (Atlanta office)
General Contractor: Merit Construction Co. (Atlanta)
Landscape Architect for treehouse green roof: Decatur Roofing (Norcross Georgia)
Arborist: Arborguard Tree Specialists (Atlanta)
Photovoltaic system designer: One World Sustainable (Colbert, Georgia)
Totem pole-inspired sculptures lining nature trail to treehouse: Savannah College of Art and Design, Sculpture Department (Atlanta campus)
Project Area: 1,200 square feet of enclosed space surrounded by a 600-square-foot covered deck
Project year: 2007
Construction year: 2009
Photographs: Jonathan Hillyer Photography, Inc.
Camp Twin Lakes, a site 50 miles east of Atlanta, is used by more than 40 partners, all camping programs in Georgia for children with serious illnesses, disabilities and other life challenges. Lord, Aeck & Sargent designed the original facilities for the camp in the early 1990s and updated the master plan in 2007. In response to Camp Twin Lakes goals, the plan envisioned wheelchair accessible nature trails traveling around the camp’s two lakes, one leading to a “Wild Side” with a treehouse where campers could connect with nature. In order to design the treehouse quickly, the architecture firm held an in-house competition juried by members of the board as well as campers. The selected design best responded to the wish list made by a group of campers who were tasked with drawing their ideal treehouse including wheelchair accessibility, enclosed spaces for play and interaction as well as a greenroof, trapdoor, slide and swings.
The treehouse is sited on a sloping area of land near the end of the nature trail. Children in wheelchairs enter via a curved wooden boardwalk and find themselves on the treehouse deck about 15 feet above ground overlooking one of the camp’s lakes. The treehouse foundation consists of a series of wooden telephone poles connected to a system of below- grade concrete beams that stabilize the poles.
The design includes one octagonal-shaped main space in the center – used primarily for environmental arts and crafts – with a series of four, multi-sided spaces. Another space with built-in bench seating forms an arc of about 270 degrees and is used for the camp’s drumming program. A smaller space is used for storytelling and small group activities. The other two spaces, which flank the doorway to the main space, are a utility room and a staff/storage room. Combined, the main interior room and four smaller spaces, along with an upper level overlook, known as the “bird’s nest” because it is located amid the boughs of a large oak tree, comprise 1,200 square feet of enclosed space surrounded by a 600-square-foot covered deck. The enclosed area has floor-to-ceiling windows with double layer screens.
The intent of the “Wild Side” was to get the children outdoors and away from mechanically conditioned spaces, though the special needs of the children did necessitate some protection from hot Georgia summers. The treehouse has ceiling fans in the main rooms and a mister system that runs through the eaves; these two systems combined make the air in and around the treehouse noticeably cooler by at least 8 degrees.