It has been a summer of deadlines and pretty poor weather here in Northern Ireland. Not an incompatible mix, as at least things were generally done on time. But there was an underlying frustration that although much work was done, there was insufficient time for reflection.
Even Obama and the Pope in 2015 have found time to comment on the need for the world to act more sustainably. Perhaps they would be interested in the next ISBC !
I set-up my Architectural practice here in Northern Ireland some 23 years ago, whilst converting a derelict water-mill into our house and now work-place. Looking back I think it was brave or naïve, depending on your perspective. It was before the cease-fire of 1994, and as an English blow-in I soon realised how complex The Troubles were. Several decades on it’s a different place, but we possibly have the legacy of keeping your head down, which is contrary to innovation. We’ve also come across hostility to using natural building materials, and a brand-loyal acceptance of petro-chemically derived insulation products.
It seemed to be a good strategy to lead by example, and hence do any “ experimental” construction using natural materials for ourselves. In 1997 we designed a straw-bale classroom, which was constructed by a group of parents for the local integrated rural primary school. It was an appropriate focus for their pioneering spirit & technical & practical lessons were learned in the making. Its unfortunate “failure” as a project was mainly due to other parts of the school community not sharing the enthusiasm for environmental education.
More recently we designed & built a low-impact cottage, using hemp & lime walls which were cast insitu. This was done in parallel with on-going research, particularly about Hemp and the building has importantly remained available for us to monitor, as well as making it open to the public & holiday makers.
Hemp Cottage, as its rather obviously named, is its own evidence that natural building techniques can be robust & more sustainable. One visitor to the cottage who stayed for 6 weeks, said that staying there has raised the bar in terms of what she now wants of a house, and she’s unable to find a house to match her expectations on the open market… so just may need to commission me to design a house for her !
So, in anticipation of a long journey, to join the International Straw Building Conference in New Zealand next year, I am trying to carve out some time to reflect on what work has been really productive & what hard lessons should be learnt and shared. Best of all will be to see other peoples’ work & their perspectives.