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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

Straw Works – its back and its even better

2013-03-06 14.17.36I was really excited to hear the seminar by Barbara Jones of Straw Works today at Ecobuild. Barbara set up Amazonails previously and it was through this company that I learnt to build using straw bales and helped to build an extension to the Old Music Hall in Oxford and a showroom in Cropredy. Now running Straw Works it was really nice to see straw bale building in force again. So much so that Barbara has been approached by a housebuilder to build 200 houses. Continue Reading →

March 6, 2013

Wise Words from Bill Dunster

bill dunsterI listened to a seminar by Bill Dunster about the new Solar Zed roofs at Ecobuild today. These make a large reduction in the cost of installing solar because you are saving on the roofing material cost. This means that solar panels may only cost £80 per m2 extra or the example Bill gave was; it might cost say, £12,500 extra to install the solar zed roof which you can add to your mortgage, this would be less to pay per month than a mortgage on a house built to current building regulations with the energy bills on top. In addition you would be future proofing yourself against energy price rises which are agreed to be an 8-10% rise annually. Continue Reading →

March 6, 2013

Mouldy Passivhaus and Why We Need Air

Edge House 3d annotated-green-blogI was concerned to read in a recent RIBA journal (Feb/March 2013) about Passivhaus’s being built in Belgium without proper ventilation. It is a scary thought that while the building regulations in this country are leaning more and more towards air tight buildings, ventilation is getting overlooked or not properly designed. According to the RIBA journal, one Passivhaus in Belgium had to be condemned with occupants suffering from itching skin and allergies. The cause was an earth pipe used to bring in warm air from the outside which was not watertight, causing moist bacteria filled air to enter the building. Continue Reading →

February 21, 2013