Yellow Treehouse Restaurant

 In September 2008, our client, Yellow Pages Group, had a major image problem. Consumers and advertisers were questioning the need for the big yellow book in the post-Google age. Their brief was to do something major to make New Zealanders reconsider Yellow as a relevant, contemporary brand that was as much about online and mobile as it was about the age-old book. And so, to prove that Yellow’s still the best way to get any job done, they challenged Aucklander Tracey Collins to build a restaurant halfway up a tree, using nothing but contacts from Yellow’s website, mobile application and book. The public followed her progress on reality television adverts and on-line via live webcam coverage. In January this year, Yellow Treehouse Restaurant opened the to a sell-out two-month season. 

Pacific Environments NZ Ltd, Architects challenge was to create a building that captured people’s imagination, sense of intrigue and yet was within the ‘realms of reality’. It was achieved through the design of a chrysalis inspired 'pod-form' wrapped around the trunk of a tree, capable of supporting 30 diners. It needed to comply with all Resource Management and Building Code requirements including access for the disabled, fire compliancy, while looking after the living tree and all with only 3 months to complete it! 

The Architectural Inspiration largely came from the site -an open fairytale meadow and stream in the midst of a redwood forest plantation, understanding the nature of the tree/environment and the construction concerns about building sustainably in a living tree. An arborist advised on the best ways of looking after the tree’s health. The floor plan is circular, almost 10 metres in diameter, split and slid along the axis. This forms a natural opening to enter from one side along with a balcony from the other. It is accessed via a 60 metre long adventurous treetop walkway made from Redwood milled on site and is wheelchair compliant. The kitchen and toilet facilities remained on the ground leaving the treehouse floor flexible for a unique dining experience. The external vertical look comes from the rhythm of curved glue laminated timber fins of Pinus-Radiata, with Poplar battens ‘feathering’ between forming a permeable translucent skin. Acrylic sheeting forms the roof allowing sunlight to enter with the views for the diners to the treetops and stars in the nightsky. 

By day, the13m high structure is a natural and organic part of the forest behind but by night it transforms into a glowing lantern. The construction team had to respond to the rigours of protecting a living tree, movement in the wind, and working around an active filmcrew. The restaurant opened on time in mid December 2008 and was on budget! Sustainability is achieved through the selection of materials, little reliance on outside energy sources, natural ventilation and lighting, and a minimal footprint. It was a team approach throughout, from conceptual ideas, development of the design, through to designing the structure, materials selection, buildability, programming, Council approvals and construction. 

There are no codes for building in a tree, and everything needed to be researched and tested. The campaign drew unprecedented attention, being featured on over 20,000 websites internationally and in the pages of over 200 different magazines and books, from architecture, in-flight magazines, dining and food to sustainability. It was reviewed on every major New Zealand television channel and was the lead story on the front page of New Zealand’s major daily newspaper, the New Zealand Herald. The success for Yellow has been huge, exceeding their brief, increase in brand awareness and users on-line. 

Their business has improved markedly against their competitors (including Google) through an increase in direct subscriptions and on-line enquiries. The design captured people’s imagination, in ways few projects do, resulting in international recognition, enquiries and requests for images. The dining experience in a treetop proved memorable, and the restaurant was quick to completely book out. The Treehouse is currently being prepared for long term use as a private functions venue by the plantation owners, ensuring the Treehouse’s longevity.

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