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Architectural firm going out on a limb

By Ann Knoedler

There’s an architectural firm in Stoddard (Vernon County) whose employees are the ultimate tree-huggers. And I’m very glad they are.

The firm name is Whole Trees Architecture and Construction and the CEO and lead architect is Wisconsin native Roald Gundersen.

Whole Trees Architecture and Construction This farm house in Avalanche, Wisconsin was built almost entirely from trees taken from within 500 yards of the house.

Whole Trees Architecture and Construction built this staircase for a farmhouse in Avalanche, Wis. It was built almost entirely from trees taken from within 500 yards of the house. (Photo courtesy of wholetreesarchitecture.com)

He builds structures with whole trees and saves forests at the same time. He doesn’t leap tall buildings, but he does climb and gently bend trees to form curves to prepare them for future construction material. He loves curved wood for its strength and beauty.

For about 16 years, Gundersen has been perfecting the use of whole trees to design and build a variety of structures, including houses and agricultural and commercial buildings.

Here’s a little of the science behind it. Whole tree buildings are timber frame, passive solar structures that use un-milled trunks and branches of trees to make up its structure. The trees that are selected from his forest are the smaller, younger trees — they grow back more quickly — and this means the older and more established trees are spared, kept strong by the thinning, and saved for future generations.

Because these smaller, younger trees are kept intact (un-milled) for construction, they match up strength wise to steel and are, in fact, 50 percent stronger than milled lumber (a study conducted by the USDA Forest Products Lab in Madison is referenced on the Whole Trees website).

Whole Trees also thins the forest of diseased, invasive and wind-bent trees for use in its structures. The only big trees used are those felled by wind, disease or insects and are used as powerful columns and curving beams.

The resulting structures are rustic and even ornate because the tree branches become an integral part of the design.

These are not your grandfather’s log cabins.

Take a look at this whole tree house under construction and you can see some of the inner skeleton and how the trees are used for support.

Gundersen is on a mission to teach others to preserve the forests we have by learning his building technique. I sure hope it catches on.

Ann Knoedler is the lead data reporter at The Daily Reporter. She can be reached at (414) 225-1822.

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