A Refurbished Wooden Nest - Earth Week

By Tanya Silverman

A treehouse in Hawaii by artist Roderick Romero. Photo by mahinui.

The New Nest

The latest earthly installation at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden intrigues the viewer from several different perspectives: Observing it from aback, a densely-packed vortex composed of trunks, branches, sticks, and twigs twist around to form a giant nest with short staircases composed of stump chunks and paneled railing.

Approaching the intermingled wonder, the viewer can study the intricate composition of thoroughly weaved tree limbs before climbing up the steps to enter it.

Ascending up into the core of the nest, a symmetrically-structured hexagonal platform, the viewer can relax within the open-air capsule of wood or look beyond the enclosure into Brooklyn’s finest flora.

What is this woody creation?

This installation is Roderick Romero’s newest tree house, also known as “Sandy Remix,” a sustainable collage of refurbished plant life that once stood throughout the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) grounds. The nest theme is this tree house architect’s personal signature when he makes his sustainable structures.

Re-Furbished Material

“All my work is 100 percent salvaged,” Romero explains. This ecologically-minded style is practical in his line of work: “I figured I was going to be working in nature, with nature. I couldn’t imagine that my lumber was coming from a clear-cut somewhere. It just seemed really hypocritical.”

Romero stays true to these morals; with exception of the hardware that holds together the Sandy Remix, this giant nest is composed re-furbished plant life from the BBG.

Though the BBG grounds do not show any signs of it today (especially considering all of the delightful flowers and lush green space of Spring), hurricanes Irene and Sandy, and the Nor’easter that followed Sandy, had resulted in ample damage to the garden. When the BBG was researching a way to re-use all of the organic matter felled in these storms, one of its staff members came across a bird nest structure that Romero built in his community garden in Manhattan’s East Village. Noting that Romero stands by his principle of utilizing salvaged material, he was deemed fit for the task.

It took Romero four weeks to install the sculpture, which opened to the public on April 6. He was assisted by John Duvall, who the BBG hired to mill some of the wood for the project into workable pieces. The immense nest, which stands about five feet off the ground and takes up about 200 square feet of space, consists of over a dozen species of trees, including willow, persimmon, pin oak, and black walnut.

One of Many Tree Houses

Even though Roderick Romero spends much time in the East Village community garden, and the tree house there is very special to him, he prides the Sandy Remix as his new favorite: “I was so inspired by being at the BBG that it definitely pushed my design. It’s by far the best.”

Having contributed such accessible tree house additions to Manhattan and Brooklyn, Romero’s projects go well beyond the realms of New York City. He completed his first tree house in Olympia, Washington, back in 1997, and after making one more in Seattle, he was approached by Sting, the musician, to build his third in Italy. The celebrity connections led to new gigs for him like Donna Karen and Julianne Moore. When Val Kilmer hired Romero to build a tree house, the actor directed him to navigate 6,000 acres of his property to come up with materials, which ended up as a four-day adventure.

Roderick Romero has taught tree house building workshops to orphaned children in Morocco, and has worked with salvaged jungle wood in Carayes, Mexico, after the area had been damaged by a hurricane.

Though he has a background in music and theater, Romero focuses much of his energy today on environmental-related fields. In his East Village community garden, he stays active with projects like gardening, constructing a fire place, and working on a found-objects wall.

A Success of a Nest

While his BBG nest was created from salvaged material, this collage was different from Romero’s traditional approach to his projects: “I go out into the woods, and I sit. I just listen and observe the wildlife and see how the trees move in the wind.” When he considers his work at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, his first large public commission, Romero comments, “It was a total honor to be able to work there.”

So far, this installation has served as a spectacle of curiosity for all ages. The younger visitors enjoy its spontaneous accessibility, and children will immediately run up to it. Mature crowds will often take time to read the posted descriptions of how the giant nest was crafted and then fathom the process and meaning of this creation.

With all of the recreation or reflection related to the Sandy Remix, such positive reactions to Romero’s work have not been particular to Brooklyn, but have resulted from all of his tree houses, anywhere from Costa Rica to Connecticut.

“It will definitely change your mind. It changes your whole perspective. You can’t help but smile and feel a little lighter,” says Romero, describing the feeling of entering one of his tree houses.

Education and Inspiration

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has bright prospects for the Sandy Remix tree house installation. For adults, it will continue to be a “quiet spot for contemplation,” yet contrast as a “fun, imaginary landscape for children,” according to Kate Blumm of the BBG. Over the summer, the BBG plans to hold educational programs in the giant nest to teach children skills related to the installation, like animal architecture, nesting, and weaving.

Having journeyed his sustainable philosophy and creations to climb the heights of the trees, fly around the globe, and explore a plethora of different environments, one must wonder, what are Roderick Romero’s plans for Earth Day 2013? He states simply, “I’ll probably be here in my community garden.”