For architects, Christmas is that special time of the year when even they can afford to stop being rational for a while and indulge into some festive sentimentality. Clearly, the design and creation of man-made Christmas trees started long before the more versatile and multi disciplinary minded architects of recent generations got involved. The possession of the tallest, shiniest and later on the most unconventional tree has been a question of honour for cities around the world and this festively competitive symbol of Christmas has long since outgrown natural evergreens.
The debate of the environmental impact of both cutting natural trees for the celebrations and using their artificial replicas that became popular in the 90s is also ongoing. While woodcutting always has a negative environmental impact, it is also a fact that unlike their PVC counterpart, natural Christmas trees are entirely biodegradable and in the long run less environmentally harmful. The best solution to avoiding the use of either of the controversial options (as recommended by environmentalist elves and Santa Claus himself) involves stylization and interpretation - something that architects and designers are very familiar with.
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Designer Christmas trees can be sustainable. Recycled materials of all kinds come back to life in most fascinating forms and the great news is it adds extra value to the Christmas experience. The Bermondsey Square Christmas tree by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects consists of 35 recycled bike wheels arranged in the recognisable shape of a Christmas Tree. The bicycle parts incorporated in the design are on loan from UK charity Re~Cycle who are committed to providing cheap, sustainable transport in Africa.
Design Christmas trees are interactive. The Abies-Electronicus XMAS Tree by 1024 architecture is in fact an architectural scaffolding sculpture augmented with lights, sound and visuals. The tree trunk is accessible and serves as a belvedere to view the city from above, the base of the tree transforming into a Hot-Wine-Bar.
In the true spirit of Christmas, design trees also inspire collaboration. To collect the bottles for the awe-inspiring green bottle Christmas tree in Chiguayante, Chile the architect Ricardo Sanhueza De La Maza and local authorities held a glass recycling campaign in all municipal schools in the district which yielded about 19,000 bottle units, a 1000 of which were in fact donated by private individuals.
Last but not least, the homey versions of design Christmas trees are a smart and stylish alternative to traditional in-house Christmas decor - they are harmless, they bring warmth even without decoration on and, in the long run, they really prove helpful in uncluttering since they are easy to set up, take down and store compactly.
Whether you are more of a new-age designer or a dedicated traditionalist, the Christmas season is a great magical time of the year to unleash your inner creativity. But be warned! While working on small design tasks like designing a Christmas tree is always a pleasure, it is strangely not without the 'issues' that architects will be oh so familiar with: getting you vision past the planning committee (at Christmas everyone is a critic!), the challenges of designing something that is sympathetic to its surrounding environment (like that questionable festive fireside ornament your better half insists upon) and the structural/safety challenges to make it super-christmas-charged children and pet friendly.
But aside from that, it's Christmas, so give it a shot and don't forget to share your Christmas creations here... Happy holidays!