Dear Permaship, friends and fellow building companions
Okay, so now we have had time to consider the building and watch it start to become a place rather than just 4 walls with a roof, do we consider that as a project it was a success? What went well and what didn’t? If we built the building again what would we do differently? And does the building qualify as ecological?
So lets start with the positives (as these I believe outnumber the negatives). Firstly and most importantly, we as group achieved a fantastic result. We constructed a simple building from nothing in less that 4 days and by the end of the last day, (which sadly those who left earlier did not get to see), we had 4 walls plus a green roof in place and with the added element of two pine poles to stabilise the back wall. Over the course I watched people who at first seemed shy of using tools, progress to cutting mortise joints in wood (and good ones too), making fairly expansive bits of carpentry and working together to get the building up. This is the point of building as a group – to have fun, to work together and to learn new skills. From this perspective and as a learning (and fun) experience I think the course was a great success and this would not have been possible without Permaship who deserve credit for their willingness to try new ideas. From a design perspective, it appears that the chickens are now happy in their new home and you can enjoy a nice view from the outdoor toilet. Also the materials have a very low carbon footprint, are sourced locally & at a generally low cost or even for free. Most of them can also be reused but more of that below. This is a definite success and not easy to achieve with more ‘modern’ building methods.
Okay, so what of the negatives? Well, the design of the building was wrong and tried to incorporate a basic method of building (straw bales) with a much lighter and more intricate method; timber frame. The reasoning behind this decision doesn’t need discussing – it was an experiment and ultimately the union between the two methods didn’t work so well. However, as the overall construction of the building is simple, we were able to make some quick decisions to rectify our main worries – that is to shore up the rear wall which had started to lean. This was probably a result of the front wall being timber and the load or weight of the roof being passed on to the walls became uneven - plus the sheer amount of keen people who were climbing all over the roof to bang in nails probably helped in the wall leaning! So we simply added some timber poles and stone foundation and then the building started to ‘sit’ better and was able to fully support the green roof. Our mistake was to use the timber front wall – next time use 4 straw bale walls! In fact this was the main problem of the build; straw bale buildings rely on the connection of each wall and a strong roof to stay together and by removing a wall, we created a lot of extra problems – especially in altering the inherent structural rigidity of the building. It meant that the weight became uneven and this is what caused the leaning. Our next building design must evolve! I would say that the other issue were the program of works which meant that some people were left sitting down whilst others almost took permanent residence in the earth / cob pits! This was because we worked so well as a group at certain tasks but didn’t have quite enough time to get every task done correctly. Some parts, like the wood work, take longer and therefore we were always behind time which meant less time for relaxing.. But hey, its not a perfect world and time isn’t always abundant and sometimes working under pressure is a great way to bring people together… so we still achieved.
So what would we do different next time? Simple, take more time and use Straw Bales for the walls and timber for the roof. I also think that the wall plate is overly complicated and could be simplified – ours was just a little too heavy to move safely, and possibly just a little too short in length. Again it’s the relationship between the precise (wood) and looser (straw) that means that time must be taken to ensure that everything is right as the project progresses. I would also reconsider using tyres as I found the rammed earth method to be a little random – how do you ensure that each tyre is ‘pressurized’ or filled up equally? I would perhaps use stone next time. Otherwise I think the majority of the building is sound.
So is the building ecological? In a word yes, if you allow certain materials to be reused rather than reprocessed. The stones in the foundation, straw and hazel poles in the walls, timber in the wall plate, floor plate, window boxes, front ‘wall’ and roof can all be reused or recycled. The earth on the roof and in the tyres can return happily to Permaships beautiful gardens and even the wire can be reused. Which leaves just the tyres and plastic to consider. Well the tyres were taken from the waste stream and would have probably ended up being burnt so we can argue that by using them in a building we have at least mitigated against their impact. And the plastic? Well, it was a cheap and usable material that we needed for our roof and overall relates to less than 1% of the building cost and mass so I leave you to make your own conclusions. Mine? Well, 99% is almost good enough, especially when looking at concrete, steel and brick… buildings have to last and we need a waterproof layer in our roof hence the choice of plastic.
To end this course I would like to thank everyone who attended and helped run the course and it was a brilliant event of which the memory will stay with me for ever. All the people of the course should raise a Rakia or fruit juice to their fine combined successes in creating a building that has individuality and most importantly, possesses a spirit which is firmly part of the place we have all helped to build.
Oh and I must also congratulate the chefs for the fine food and once again Paul & Sophie for doing what they believe in and of course the ongoing support of my family...