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A Treehouse Grows on Governors Island

A recycled wind chime made of bottles at the Governors Island treehouse.
A recycled wind chime made of bottles at the Governors Island treehouse.
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Tes Rivera

GOVERNORS ISLAND — An environmentally friendly treehouse is charming young and old visitors alike on Governors Island.

Since the treehouse opened near the island's Parade Grounds last month, it has attracted dozens of children who scamper across its balcony playing hide-and-seek, along with adults who pause to enjoy the view between the London Plane's branches.

"Everyone uses it," said Benjamin Jones, 34, a Brooklyn resident and the artist behind the project.

"Kids love it [and] adults love it too. We get a lot of, 'I had a treehouse when I was a kid. It reminds me of my childhood.'" 

The treehouse rises nearly eight feet off the ground and includes a staircase, a slide, a roof and two art installations. At 375 square feet, it is bigger than some New York City apartments.

Inside, children can interact with an installation by artist Anastasia Sokolik, which includes a sandbox, a tin-can telephone and a series of hanging bottles that form a large wind chime. They can also use their imagination and frequently pretend the treehouse is a pirate ship or a secret club, Jones said.

Jones, who believes his treehouse is the first publicly accessible one in New York, started working on the idea a year and a half ago as his thesis for a master's in exhibition design at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Called "A Sustainable TreeHouse," the structure is made entirely of reclaimed and fair-trade materials, including discarded furniture and wood salvaged through Build It Green NYC.

FIGMENT, an annual arts festival on Governors Island, sponsored the treehouse, providing most of the $6,000 in funding.

The plan hit several bumps along the way, but the biggest obstacle came in March when Jones found out that the treehouse would have to go through the city's Buildings Department's approval process.

He had to hire an architect to draft official plans and made some changes to simplify the design and meet code, including widening the staircase and converting the treehouse from a circular structure to a square one.

"There were moments when I thought it wouldn't be done in time," Jones said. "We talked about canceling the project every week."

But the approvals came through just in time, and Jones worked seven days straight to get the treehouse ready for its June 11 opening, coinciding with FIGMENT's annual arts festival.

Jones did not have enough money to add some of the exhibits on energy and environmentalism that he had hoped to include, but he is still pleased with the finished product and the message it sends about connecting with nature and building responsibly.

"In the end, I'm really happy with how it turned out," Jones said.

The treehouse will remain in place through the end of September.

To volunteer at the treehouse, e-mail Benjamin Jones at beenjamminj@gmail.com.