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'Totally terrific treehouses' take over arboretum
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Sugar Maple Ship, by landscape architect James Robin is one of the designs chosen for the "Totally Terrific Treehouses" exhibition (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
There's something about a treehouse. Up high above the world, a treehouse affords kids and adults the ability to see things from a different perspective. It can be a special, private space that says "No grown-ups allowed!" Many people create designs in their heads for the perfect treehouse, but they rarely get to build them. This summer, at the Minnesota Arboretum, local designers and architects have seen their treehouse dreams become a reality.

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Image "Bird's Nest Tree Home"

Chaska, Minn. — It's called 'Totally Terrific Treehouses.'

It's taken the idea of the Swiss Family Robinson house and turned it on its head.

There's a gigantic birds nest built around a tall sugar maple. Inside, a huge egg sits next to another, recently vacated.

Some of the treehouses are made of fabric, others of more traditional wood or even metal.

Arboretum Master Gardener Mary Bigelow points to one of her favorites.

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Image Mary Bigelow

The Sugar Maple Ship sits about 20 feet above the ground.

"This one I think is fun. The flying through the trees. The sort of Peter Pan kind of thing."

Red and orange sails form the shell of the flying houseboat. It's fastened at each end to neighboring maples.

Bigelow has an idea about why a treehouse like this is irresistible to kids and parents alike.

"It's both a combination of fantasy and architecture. So these are sort of the ultimate Tinker Toy," she says. "If you had these materials, and a crew of a few people, and the right place in your yard, yeah, you could do this."

Organizers chose 12 treehouses from over 30 proposals.

Bigelow says the critical requirement was trees were not to be violated in any way. No drilling. No nails. No spikes. The houses had to somehow incorporate the tree, but not make a dent in it. No punctures. No footing. No bolting.

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Image Kids gravitate to "Growth"

One of the most popular houses is called "Growth."

Steel tubing twists around a large red oak.

It's a 22 foot high cross between a jungle gym and a stylized strand of DNA.

Kids swarm all over it.

"I wanna climb up. Can you guys take a picture?" one girl asks.

Grandmother Mary Platt of Edina keeps an eye on her charges as they climb aboard. She looks up, a little worried.

"Some of the kids are getting a little higher than they're supposed to."

Yet Platt admits a little 'dare-deviling' is what treehouses are all about.

"I think that's part of it. And they've been looking for some that they can really climb on and get into."

Eight year old Jonah Shaw dashes up and gives his verdict.

"It's really fun to climb. It would be a lot funner if just I was there, cause it's a lot harder to climb on when there's 500 people on it!"

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Image Jon Vandervelde

Back at his studio, "Growth" designer Jon Vandervelde laughs about his sculpture's popularity with children.

He agrees with Jonah. He designed his treehouse thinking it would be used by one person at a time for quiet contemplation.

Vandervelde put a chair at the top of the twisting spiral ladder, among the leafy branches. There's a pizza tray there too, with a bird feeder on it.

"The idea being that you have this bird feeder that's in your lap as you sit in that chair high in the foliage," he says. "And if you sit very, very still, and there's not noise around you, the birds will come and eat right in your lap as it were. So that is the concept. And, I think it will work. I haven't proved it yet. Every time I go there it's surrounded by screaming children. So there's no chance to see if the birds are going to come or not."

Which may just prove, that even with time, money and expertise, it's still tough to fullfill fantasies, at least when it comes to treehouses.

Adults can relive their childhood, with or without kids, at the Totally Terrific Treehouses exhibit. It runs until October 10th at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska.

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