These images are from the ymca in brampton, ontario, who have empowered evergreen to reform the toddler and pre-school outdoor daycare spaces with some space suitable for healthy kids to grow in; a living landscape of plants, trees, and details which makes me greedy to have something similar when i was a kid. it is an odd desire, since i grew up in salmon arm, b.c. and my elementary school had forests attached to it to the tune of about 5 acres. so evergreen has now commissioned me to design and build out a brush hut, whose structural spine is a 4′ cedar fence, and each side of the fence dividing the toddlers from the pre-school kids has a little hut.
All of the material was sourced from an adjacent property called cedar glen, and when i initially arrived i thought i was looking for two trees (for the brush huts) and enough willow to make 2 fifteen foot willow tunnels. When i arrived the willow was in short supply, and what maple i could find was either relatively rare on the site, unless it had been recently cut down and was sprouting up again, a process called coppicing. (more precisely coppicing is taking advantage, and creating annual cycles between coppice areas which you cut down, of trees which re-sprout from the bark collar after a tree is cut. it is an old technology of farming trees which has been practiced for over 2000 years.) the property being called ‘cedar glen’ you could guess which young saplings i was cutting out. that’s right, the eastern white cedar. there is something infinitely satisfying, and somehow right, or ethical about using the materials of small scale forest management to effect such beautiful little children’s spaces. I walked through the woods, populated with large black cherries, white ash, and literally thousands of small cedar saplings, growing together as if for comfort. others call this growing competitively, though it was useful to release the larger cedars of their competition while harvesting for the willow, now cedar tunnels. it may be a stretch of the imagination, but i sincerely believe that this ethic carries over into the material, and thereafter into whatever is created out of it. this balance of the application of differing traditional technologies through understanding different uses of the living pars of plants and trees is, in my opinion, of great effect to children learning, since more intellectual concepts may be harder to ‘sink in’ to their excitable minds.
in the coming two weeks, which mark the beginning of june, i will continue to upload images of these shelters. right now you can clearly see the woven grape vine, cut by a crew of 250 volunteers at cedar glen, the maple, ash, white pine and other upright structural poles, though what you cannot see in the image is the small binding cedar rope, laboriously made from the inner bark, and lashed in to prevent kids from getting their limbs stuck in the hut.