When eco-builder Gennaro Brooks-Church set out to construct something in his Carroll Gardens backyard this summer, he didn’t know it was going to turn out to be a treehouse. Well, he kind of knew. But there was no blueprint, no larger mission. For Brooks-Church, the final shape of the project was far less interesting than the process of building it. “My son has a service, it’s sort of like Netflix but for Legos,” Brooks-Church told me. “When you’re done making it, you take it apart and send it back. And that was like making the treehouse was like. The joy was in the creation. I’m tempted just to take it apart now.”
The process is one that Brooks-Church calls “anti-architecture.” It’s less about the final project than the puzzle of making it, the organic process of shaping a house. “I like to push the limits of green building,” he said. “What’s beautiful to me is the anti-design. This doesn’t fit into any norms; we didn’t set out with an order for Lowes or a pre-made kit.”
Indeed, Brooks-Church got all the wood for the two-story treehouse from the dumpster. He salvaged the boards from a water tower in Manhattan, which gives the project a pleasing, weather-beaten look. Plus, it meant that the cost of materials was minimal. (“Maybe $100 in screws,” he said; the cost of labor ran him about $13,000). In fact, Brooks Church’s entire background is like some kind of eco-wonderland inserted in the middle of Carroll Gardens. To get to the treehouse, a structure that looks like it grew up from the ground itself, you cross a man-made swimming hole, one that’s naturally self-cleaning.
The treehouse itself is a narrow structure, accessible by a wooden log ramp. To get to the second story, you have to climb a tiny ladder. This difficulty, Brooks-Church said, was on purpose: It was designed as a challenge for his three children. “This is intentionally precarious,” he said. “I wanted my kids to become confident and nimble.” And so far, it seems to have worked: As we explored the treehouse, Brooks-Church’s 2-year-old son ran out to join us, insisting on his father’s help climbing up the structure. But once inside, the treehouse is a comfortable space, the kind of hideaway that you’d love to have a child or an adult to read and sip some lemonade on a hot summer’s day. “Most people dseign for how something looks,” Brooks-Church said. “But we built for how it feels.”
A joke that Brooks-Church made, about possibly renting out the house on AirBnB, was widely reported in the media. But he doesn’t actually plan on it; at least not as a room people rent. “The truth is, if you’re here for that, you’d be disappointed,” he said. (Plus, of course, it’s illegal, and the space is open to the air, not ideal for the Brooklyn winter.) It’s possible that he might AirBnB a room in his equally beautiful house that comes with access to the treehouse and swimming hole. (Brooks-Church designed his house along similar principles: It is full of interesting details and rescued parts. A stair railling is made out of the parts of an old fire escape balcony; there is a river feature on the roof.) But for now, he’s just enjoying his creation. “If anything, I might want to scale it back,” he said. “But I look at it as a tableau. It’s more of an art project than a construction project.”