Deep Roots, Strong Branches: Whole Tree Architecture

A pair of biodynamic farmers settles into a home built from whole, unmilled trees.

| November/December 2007

When selecting trees from their southwest Wisconsin property to use in the construction of their new home, farmers Marcia Halligan and Steven Adams passed over the stately oaks and the sturdy maples, choosing instead the weak and diseased trees. They didn’t need the forest’s strongest old-growth trees for their house, built using architect Roald Gundersen’s revolutionary Whole Tree Architecture. His technique uses whole, unmilled, “Charlie Brown” trees—in this case, weedy box elders, slender ironwoods, invasive black locusts, wind-bent hickory and diseased elms—to create sheltering, graceful homes while preserving mature forests around them.

“There’s a feeling in our house like we’re in a grove of trees,” says Marcia. “There is all this tree energy. It’s very beautiful and very nurturing.”

Rooted in place 

Biodynamic farmers Marcia and Steven bought the 81-acre land just outside Viroqua 23 years ago. From their first walk through the rolling woods and pastures, Marcia felt a connection to the place. “Sitting on the ground with my eyes closed, I felt my roots sinking down into this earth,” she says.

Calling their new home Chrysalis Farm, the couple moved into the drafty, 19th-century farmhouse that stood on the property. Initially built as a log cabin in the mid-1800s, the house had grown over the decades in the hodgepodge fashion of so many expansions gone bad.

Eight years ago, they began planning a new house, which they hoped would honor their spiritual bond with the earth. They researched several building styles, including round, straw bale and cob houses. Then a friend suggested they take a look at a home that architect Roald Gundersen had built with whole trees. Marcia was struck by the simple grace the wood lent the structure. More importantly, she recognized that she and Steven already had an abundance of the resource they would most need: local trees.

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