Imagine if your office was in a tree. Now, imagine also that the tree is a kind of landlord that owns itself, and directly benefits from the work that you do. That's the premise of TREExOFFICE, an environmental civic action project by Australian American artist, engineer and NYU professor Natalie Jeremijenko. It's a open-plan, open-air co-working space currently installed around a tree in Hoxton Square in East London, outfitted with its own wi-fi and locally generated power.
According to the TREExOFFICE website, the project aims to reinvent how we see nature -- rather than as a passive resource to be exploited, it has its own agency and even possibly its own personhood (after all, if corporations can be viewed as persons under the American law, why shouldn't nature be afforded the same rights?). Work done within the co-working space will go directly to benefit the tree, which will in turn, benefit humans too, in form of oxygen, shade, well-being:
The facility is owned and operated by the tree itself, acting as your landlord. Your tenancy generates rent – proceeds to be used by and for the interests of your landlord tree as the tree determines for example: augmenting soil with biochar, companion plantings, and other actions at the tree’s discretion.
A similar installation in Manhattan a couple of years ago generated $1,000 a month, which went back to take care of the systems that the tree depended upon. Jeremijenko -- who's known for her work in combining technology with ecology for a "mutualistic systems design" approach, ultimately creating what she calls an "eco-mindshift" -- is posing the question of how would our relationship to nature change if we apply to it the same rules that we live by?
In the video above, she likens this paradigm shift to elevating the tree from a "low-paid service worker to a landlord," thus finally recognizing the huge debt that we owe to nature. The project uses modern technology to give trees a voice, with the use of sensors, with the possibility of the tree being hooked up to the Internet of Things:
Further, the current technological opportunity transforms trees’ capacity to self-monitor and report, tweet, and account for their use by people and other organisms. They themselves account for the variety of uses and services they provide, and they themselves monetize these services, exploit their own assets, and capitalize on their capital. Using simple, inexpensive sensors the trees assume their own voice and capacity to exert corporate personhood within this new structure of ownership.
It's an intriguing concept that reinvents the image of nature as something sentient, but in terms that us technocratic "moderns" might understand. We live in an increasingly transactional and technologized culture, where this kind of exchange -- which may have seemed outlandish a few years ago -- may actually be the future of mainstream sustainability, a new kind of resilience. It's a totally different creature than the courageous tree-sits of yesterday, but if nothing else, it would make going to the office much, much more enjoyable, and beneficial for both the trees and humans, explains Jeremijenko on Motherboard:
Who wants to spend all day in climate-controlled office on Facebook and tweeting when that same technology can be used to facilitate working in the trees and wetlands? I think the responsibility that the emerging generation has is to reinvent their work practices in ways they find compelling and interesting; to go beyond the ping pong table in the Google office and the open plan office and be adventurous in how we work.
To that end, individuals or groups can set up their own TREExOFFICE by emailing for a Tree Kit. The Hoxton Square TREExOFFICE will run from June 1 to 30, as part of the 2 Degrees Festival. To book time in TREExOFFICE, or see more, visit Natalie Jeremijenko and TREExOFFICE London.