For artist and tree house architect Roderick Romero, Hurricane Sandy supplied much of the inspiration – and much of the material – for his latest work.
The sprawling “Sandy Remix,” billed by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden as a tree house, looks more like a giant bird’s nest. Romero built the structure almost entirely out of pin oak, persimmon and other storm-salvaged wood harvested from within the garden’s 52-acres after the October superstorm.
“The idea is that this was way up in the garden a little further away and then Sandy came in and just took it and it went flying and then landed here,” said Romero as he traced the 200-square-foot tree house’s imagined trajectory. “Then the stairs just kind of broke out.”
Eye on Art
From a bird’s eye perspective, Romero sought to recreate the eye and shape of a hurricane emanating out of the tree house’s deck, which stands five feet off the ground and is accessible by two sets of steps. “You know how they have those kind of tendrils that come off them?” he said. “That’s the staircase.”
Romero counts children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, the Japanese-American landscape architect Isamu Noguchi and the French surrealist Marcel Duchamp as major influences on the design of the “Sandy Remix.” He patterned the steps off the Giants Causeway, a series of stair-like basalt columns off the coast of Northern Ireland.
Romero, who has designed tree houses for Sting and Julianne Moore, constructed the “Sandy Remix” mostly out of trees downed by hurricanes Irene and Sandy. He also repurposed leftovers from “Natural History,” an earlier Patrick Dougherty installation housed at the garden.
Not all the visitors saw the hurricane or the bird’s nest, however.
“My little one says it looks like a train, but he thinks everything looks like a train,” said Phoebe Damrosch, who took in the tree house with her children, Django and Finn.
Her son expected it to be taller, she said, adding: “How do you explain liability to a five-year-old?”
As crowds of children swarmed about the tree house during its early April debut, older visitors called the installation a clever repurposing of the wood downed by the various storms.
“We think it’s a wonderful use of the trees that were lost,” said Jill Rothstein, who came to the garden with her family to view the daffodils. “It’s artistic. It looks really like an art project.”
Volunteer garden guide Leslie Wright, who witnessed the weather damage visited upon the garden in recent years, was thankful all the debris had not gone to waste.
“It was a really wonderful experience to be able to incorporate some of the different types of trees that were lost,” she said, noting that recent storms felled 100 old and rare trees.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden solicited proposals from more than 30 artists for the project. But only Romero’s design envisioned using just timber from recent storms.
The artist and his crew took about four weeks to mill the wood on site and build the structure, which debuted April 6.
Despite working through rain, snow and cold during construction, Romero and his team only dealt with one major challenge.
“Probably the hardest thing was keeping people out of it while we worked,” he said. “They had to park security guards by us because every kid wanted to come up and it was so hard for me to say ‘no.’”
Romero, who describes the “Sandy Remix” as his best effort to date, expects to return often to view his handiwork before it is dismantle at the end of the summer.
He won’t be the only one. Damrosche will be visiting with her children as often as possible.
“It’s great,” she said. “We’re going to come back and make it our own.”