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Finally conversion of redundant farm buildings into homes is possible in open countryside!

Front elev - TJF-lowI am really excited about this groundbreaking update to the National Planning Policy Guidance (reported on the BBC see here) which finally proposes conversion of redundant farm buildings into much needed housing, even when it is in open countryside. Previously it was extremely difficult to get planning permission to make this kind of development possible. As a practice specialising in this kind of development, this is a very good thing. Nick Boles has published a report detailing the changes to the guidance (also to include retail to residential change of use and redundant farm buildings to educational use), the full document is here. An extract below:

New homes: agricultural to residential change of use

These reforms will make better use of redundant or under-used agricultural buildings, increasing rural housing without building on the countryside. Up to 450 square metres of agricultural buildings on a farm will be able to change to provide a maximum of three houses.

We recognise the importance to the public of safeguarding environmentally protected areas, so this change of use will not apply in Article 1(5) land, for example National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. However, we expect national parks and other local planning authorities to take a positive and proactive approach to sustainable development, balancing the protection of the landscape with the social and economic wellbeing of the area. National Parks and other protected areas are living communities whose young people and families need access to housing if their communities are to grow and prosper. I would note that a prior
approval process will allow for flooding issues to be addressed.

March 7, 2014

Aspirational Vernacular

DSCF5594I recently completed a 6 month trip around the world looking at case studies that have used vernacular methods or technologies, incorporating them into sustainable housing design. This was partly instigated because of a fascination in the vernacular developed while at Oxford Brookes University and partly due to a huge frustration at the lack of decent housing design in this country, particularly for young people and those stuck on an endless renting cycle. And, if I’m being really honest it was also part of a life long desire to travel the world with a purpose. Continue Reading →

November 26, 2013
Aspirational Vernacular

Build a straw house for under £50k

AXO-lowThis was a competition entry to show that a self build home costing less than £50k was possible.

Total Cost = £48,452, Gross Internal floor area = 87m2

Inspiration from the vernacular is difficult to find when the region is unknown, however a barn vernacular has been employed here. Banks of two houses form a barn or terraced rows could form a mews style in a city.

Straw bales have been chosen for their ease of self-build and their very low embodied energy. Continue Reading →

October 15, 2013
Build a straw house for under £50k

AECB conference Bradford July 2013

DSCF5401I recently spoke at the AECB conference at Bradford University in July. I spoke about my case studies in Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, China, Chile, Australia and 3 in the UK. All these case studies had used technologies/methods/cultural designs inspired from vernacular design around the world in modern day sustainable housing. My talk was about what worked and what didn’t and whether this is a good approach to providing new housing all over the world. I believe it is and my case studies back up this belief (minus a few teething issues in some cases) and starting from vernacular as a basis for design produces a much richer alternative to the identikit developer housing seen in the UK or concrete blocks abroad. Continue Reading →

August 9, 2013
AECB conference Bradford July 2013

Oxford Brookes IARD Symposium

Oxford Brookes IARD SymposiumIARD stands for International Architecture Regeneration and Development. I recently attended this symposium at Oxford Brookes University to keep up to date with what is going on in the world of regeneration and to hear from some fascinating speakers particularly FCB studios and Cullinan Studio. Here are my brief notes from the symposium: Continue Reading →

June 15, 2013
Oxford Brookes IARD Symposium

Stay in a Railway Cabin

DSCF8828My husband and I recently stayed in a railway cabin near to Brecon, mid Wales. I normally enjoy camping but as it was a very chilly April we went for the Glamping option. Complete with composting toilet, gas (with hand pump) alfresco shower, a wood Continue Reading →

May 24, 2013

Vernacular self-build today

DSCF7269DSCF7386I presented a talk at Oxford Brookes University today on the subject of my masters (How Vernacular Technologies can be used in Modern Sustainable Housing Design) and how I apply it to my work today.

Does vernacular self-build have a future?

I spoke about how vernacular building is a time rich product and it has been written that as such it is no longer sustainable. In developed countries it is only the rich who have the money to pay others to self build to their design, in developing countries, only the Campesino’s (farmers) have the time, while everyone aspires to the modern, climatically unsuitable brick buildings.

Poorer quality homes built today vs vernacular self-build

Ironically we live in far poorer housing stock now than we did when we had the time to build for ourselves (stone/cob country cottage versus thin walled brick facade suburban house; earth dwelling versus high rise concrete flats), albeit with all mod cons (indoor WC, power showers, televisions, computers etc).

Over-complicated technologies

I noticed when reviewing my masters case studies that a lot of the issues were associated with technologies, emphasising the need for good passive design, minimising the need for add on technology.

Self-finish custom-build creates less waste

I also noticed that many of the user issues were to do with personal preference over fittings. One example I gave was at the Swindon case study by Habhousing (Kevin McCloud’s venture) with Glenn Howells architects and Stride Treglown landscaping. Small baths were fitted to save water use, however one father of 3 said he would have preferred a larger bath so that all 3 children can be bathed simultaneously and he will probably retrofit a new bath. Though this appears trivial, multiplied over a housing development it has waste implications. Had the occupants had final choice over these fittings, there would surely be less need for retrofit. In the self-build scheme in Stroud (Springhill Co-housing) by Architype, the community came up with a common design that was then subtly altered to individuals tastes in terms of fittings, room layouts etc.

This kind of semi-self-build seems to me to be a partial answer to the problem of self-build affordability, while still ensuring better quality homes with community and infrastructure. The biggest asset to the Swindon and Stroud schemes in my mind is the community and quality of design. These qualities would have been very high on the agenda of a vernacular builder, whether he was conscious of it or not.


DSCF7081-lowI love my allotment. There is nothing better to take my mind off work than spending time pottering about with plants. I love running too, but there is something completely absorbing about growing things and I often feel completely refreshed after a day or even an hour on the allotment. Continue Reading →

April 9, 2013

A Simple System

Vent Axia Lo-Carbon TempraTempra Heat ExchangeI am still not absolutely convinced by mechanical ventilation as I have talked about in previous blog posts based on my research. Though when done well I do think it is extremely effective (see previous post). I live with my husband in a two bedroom flat built to sustainable code for homes level 4. It has lots of insulation, an air source heat pump and trickle vents in all the windows. Continue Reading →

March 24, 2013

Not so mouldy Passivhaus

Justin BereJustin Bere spoke today at Ecobuild on the RIBA stand. I was really interested to hear about what he had to say about the article in the RIBA journal about the issue of airtightness and faulty MVHR systems being installed leading to condemned Passivhaus’s in Belgium (see my post Mouldy Passivhaus and why we need air. Justin has tested the Passivhaus’ that his practice have designed to find out what is happening to moisture. Continue Reading →

March 7, 2013