View from the top

By Ingrid Chang

After returning from a semester at High Mountain Institute in Colorado, Jackson Foster ’11 decided to combine two of his passions, architecture and the environment, to make what seemed like a childhood project into something much more complex. Foster who has taken architecture classes at Harvard-Westlake since 10th grade, used his skills to design and build a 20-foot tall tree house in his backyard.

Foster developed the idea while he was in Colorado. He had to take transition classes at High Mountain Institute, which were focused on adjusting to going back home after living outside constantly. For his classmates who lived in more forested areas, the transition was much easier, but he came up with an idea to help him bridge the gap between living in Colorado and Los Angeles.

“I wanted to think of a concept of how I can manage to stay with the LA lifestyle of living indoors while also living outside,” Foster said. After spending a semester at High Mountain Institute he realized that he preferred living outside to inside.

The treehouse’s wooden walls are left unpainted in order to show the natural grain. During the building process he made sure to never nail into the tree; he built completely around it.

Foster built the tree house last December over a span of four months, with help from his uncle who is a general contractor. Foster drew the layout and his uncle helped him with some of the building.

Foster has been building small projects since childhood but the tree house is the first architectural project he has completed.

“This step of building took it to the next level,” Foster said. “It gave me the confidence to take on bigger projects.”

“I knew how to represent a structure on paper so that people could build it,” Foster said, “I just wasn’t familiar with the building process, but now I am.”

He took Directed Study classes with set designer Alex Kolmanovsky in 10th and 11th grade and is taking an independent study with him this year.

“I couldn’t have done this without that class,” Foster said. “I had all the written plans and I made a model which I presented to my uncle. I definitely needed both of them.”

Foster built an extremely architecturally sound structure; it is supported by chains that loop over the top of the tree, which splits into a Y-shape.

“The only way for the chains to fall is if the tree is split in half, which won’t happen, so it’s really sturdy,” Foster said.

For his Independent Study, Foster is currently designing an actual family-sized house, and he is designing it to be 100 percent off the grid, using only alternative energy sources.

Foster thinks he wants to pursue architecture in college and as a career, and plans on designing environmentally based buildings only, he said.

“My passion for [the environment] is just as big as it is for designing and art.”

Although the structure has been finished for months, the tree house is still undergoing changes.

“I’m always adding things on the inside so it’s still in the works,” Foster said.

“It’s funny when I tell people that I built a tree house at age 16 or 17 because it’s usually a little kid thing, but it was definitely spiritually important to me when I came back home,” he said.

The inside is decorated with things from his childhood. The first thing you see when you walk in is Foster’s High Mountain Institute graduation certificate and a picture of his class. Sandwiched in the middle is a picture of him in his football uniform from seventh grade. The tree house is filled with old pictures and “random stuff that trigger little memories that I like,” Foster said. Among these are a plush ram’s head, his old skateboard, and banners from his summer camp.

The pictures and mementos remind Foster of both where he’s been and his recent experience at High Mountain Institue. The tree house is a fusion of the two.