Award-Winning Project by a Knoxville Architecture Firm Part of Larger Children’s Garden Effort

UT Gardens "Nest" tree house, which is accessible for children with disabilities
The UT Gardens, Knoxville, features a children's "treehouse" called the Nest. It is the result of a design competition and is accessible for children with disabilities. Photo courtesy UTIA. ​Download image.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – You are cordially invited to an open house. You can’t buy the property, but it does have some amazing views.

The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture and UT Gardens will hold a Tree “Open” House Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, at 4 p.m. in the Gardens off Neyland Drive to dedicate its new treehouse for kids.

The treehouse is a 10-by-10-foot cube, about 5 feet off the ground, accessible by a ramp, and nicknamed “Nest.” It also includes a fireman’s pole where kids can slide to the ground.

The treehouse was designed by Sanders Pace Architecture of Knoxville. The firm was selected as the winner of a contest in 2013 to design the structure – a competition among the members of the East Tennessee chapters of the American Institute of Architects and the American Society of Landscape Architects. Design work was done by Sanders Pace, with help from local engineering firm CSA Structures, while construction was handled by UT Gardens staff and volunteers. The project is designed to enhance educational programming in the Gardens. Over 1,600 children participated in educational programs and events last year. The treehouse meets all standards for safety and is accessible for children with disabilities.

“This treehouse will enable us to engage children with nature and teach the benefits of trees,” says Sue Hamilton, director of the UT Gardens. “Our planet can’t survive without trees. Clean water, shade and oxygen are just a few of their many benefits. A staggering 3 trillion trees or roughly 400 trees per person are currently on our planet, which equates to about 30 percent of our planet being covered in trees. But this is about half of what was on our planet before civilization. I’m excited this treehouse will allow us to teach children in a fun and interactive manner about something so important to our world. We want to encourage children to appreciate trees and plant trees. We hope what we teach will influence positive actions in adulthood.” 

“We were excited to learn about the competition sponsored by our local chapter of the AIA and thrilled to have our design chosen,” says Brandon Pace of Sanders Pace Architecture. “It was a pleasure working with the staff of the UT Gardens throughout the process and we appreciate the efforts they are taking to create a fun and engaging space that’s sure to have a positive impact on the children of our community.” 

The treehouse will be the signature element of a bigger project for the UT Gardens. Work is already underway to design a Children’s Discovery Garden, which will also include another playhouse, a spider climbing web, Hobbit hole, tunnel, digging pit, a shade pavilion and a water feature. Funding for this project comes entirely from donations. While the Nest treehouse is now open for play, the Children’s Discovery Garden is under construction and is scheduled to open in the spring of 2017.

The UT Gardens includes plant collections located in Knoxville, Jackson and Crossville. Designated as the official botanical garden for the State of Tennessee, the collections are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. The Gardens’ mission is to foster appreciation, education and stewardship of plants through garden displays, educational programs and research trials. The Gardens are open during all seasons and free to the public. For more information, see the Gardens website:  

Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions.



Charles Denney, 865-382-8058 (mobile),​