Chop-Stick, VisionDivision, Indianapolis, USA, 2012

Playscapes correspondent applicant Sarah Carrier sent this project to me amongst the things she is interested in corresponding about, and I just couldn’t wait to share it!

Stockholm-based VisionDivision was commissioned to build a concessions stand by the Indianapolis Museum of Art for the 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, a project that was realized in a beautiful and playful way–and almost entirely from a single tree. They called it Chop Stick.

Basing their design on “the universal notion that you need to sacrifice something in order to make something new. Every product is a compound of different pieces of nature…” they selected a 100-foot yellow poplar tree, the state tree of Indiana.  “Our goal was to make the best out of this specific poplar tree, from taking it down and through the whole process of transforming it into a useful building that is now part of one of the finest art parks in the United States. As the project proceeded, we continued to be surprised by all of the marvelous features that where revealed in refining a tree into a building; both in the level of craftsmanship and knowledge of woodworkers and arborists, and also of the tree itself.”

The first step was simply to suspend the tree as a great horizontal beam for the new structure.  Bark was removed and fashioned into shingles, and also into lanterns for illuminating the structure at night.  Pieces of wood were carefully extracted from the suspended tree and used for each of the design components:  the stand itself, the structural supports, pillars and studs, the swings, the chairs and the tables.  Pressed leaves and flowers were used to ornament the front glass of the kiosk, and yellow poplar syrup was even made from the bark, “thus meaning that you could
actually eat a part of the building.”

This project should remind us that making innovative play spaces requires a commitment far greater than a one-day installation of pre-fabricated components.  Listen to what VisionDivision says about the process, which sounds itself like a piece of performance art:

“The delicate balance act of the risk of weakening the hovering tree with taking cuts from it versus having to have a certain amount of wood to stabilize and construct the kiosk and carrying the load from the tree itself was very challenging.  Many days was spent with the structural engineer trying different types of cuts in a computer model to optimize the structure. To be able to fit all pieces that needed to be taken from the tree into the actual cuts we needed to make drawings for every single piece taken from the tree.

We also needed to optimize the kiosk both in size and in its constructions since it would take a lot of weight from the hovering trunk. The kiosk got a truss frame construction with two larger pieces of wood that are right under the tree. Using the schematics from our engineers force diagram program, we concluded that the wall closer to the end of the tree was taking more load, thus we sized up the two larger pieces of wood in that specific wall. All these alterations really just made the project more beautiful since the design became more refined in terms of more balanced proportions.”

Some might say that such attention is a waste of time and money, but if this was going up in my community I’d stop by every day to see the hovering tree and the careful extraction of its wood.  Imagine the community commitment to the space that could be developed through the performativity of the build.  Similarly, realizing  the Woods of Net by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam (the most popular ever post here at Playscapes and now receiving well-deserved and overdue worldwide acclaim)  required a devotion to the invisible structural engineering that make her pieces possible…architectural (Tezuka Architects) and engineering (TIS and Partners) collaborators are an integral part of that design’s success, which was three years in the making.

Chop Stick fortunately wasn’t quite so long to completion, but I do wish they had credited their structural engineers…I couldn’t find them listed at VisionDivision, which is the source of the photos and quotes in this post.


Leave a Reply