Many environmentally-conscious designers, architects, and artists speculate that in the future, the modern world will strive to merge and live with nature rather than harshly objectify its offerings and live separately. The outdoor cathedral designed out of trees and the urban treehouse with 150 trees to protect its residents from noise and air pollution have already presented some of the possibilities.
And now Gavin Monroe, an innovative designer who specializes in training trees to grow into artistic pieces of furniture without any joins, has another art form to share with the world.
As a young boy, Munro was inspired to pursue this art after seeing a chair-like Bonsai tree. He now utilizes that passion on his farm north of Derby in England to grow oak, willow, ash, and sycamore trees, using plastic molds to shape the saplings into specific shapes. From there, they can be ‘sculpted’ to create chairs, lighting, mirror frames, and tables.
By carefully pruning and grafting branches of the trees together as they grow, Gavin is able to create strong pieces of unique furniture without all the waste normally associated with their traditionally made counterparts. The name of his company? Full Grown.
“When you look at it from a manufacturing point of view and from a design point of view, it actually makes total sense,” Munro told The Guardian. “Why would you grow trees, chop them down with all the faff? Why don’t you just grow the shape you want and it is eminently scalable? You can make thousands of these in the same way as you can make 10, but each one is unique.”
The design work sounds cutting edge, but it is, in fact, an art form that has been practiced for millennia. For example, the ancient Greeks and Egyptians grew stools, and the Chinese grew chairs.
As pointed out on the Full Grown website, with the current system for furniture production, trees are grown for more than 50 years, then cut down into smaller and smaller pieces producing plenty of waste along the way. Afterward, those pieces are reassembled to create furniture. Then the trees are transported
to the sawmill to the timber yard to a factory, and then, finally to a store, using up a lot of resources in the process.
In contrast, Munro’s farm does every step of the process on site. But as you can imagine, growing tree furniture and tending to the unique organism’s structure isn’t an easy process. Each piece of furniture takes between 4 and 8 years to reach its final form.
The company expects its first harvest this October. Once each tree is expertly cut down and dried out, the first pieces of Munro’s work will be on display in 2016 and then delivered to their final destinations in 2017.
Like any good investment of time, the project is intensive and can be emotionally challenging. Each tree has 10 branches to tend to, therefore if the farm is growing 100 trees, 1,000 branches need to be cared for. And of course, there’s no rushing Mother Nature or knowing the way certain trees desire to bend.
“While there is the regular joy of seeing birds and beasties living our production rows, most of the tasks I do on an average day won’t come to fruition until several years later. That’s quite hard to live with — especially as it’s taken 9 years already and we’re still a year or two away from the first substantial harvest. Thankfully prototypes and early pieces are starting to come online but still, it’s a hefty act of faith. It’s certainly not instant gratification!”
No doubt the trade has taught the artist plenty of patience, but what is even more impressive are the environmental implications presented by his work.
“We think this method is kinder and less wasteful than planting a (frequently monocultural with all those implications for biodiversity) plantation of trees, growing for a specified lifetime, then chopping down, leaving an uncared-for, cleared area, with all the additional problems like desertification.”
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