Getting Started – Small steps we can take…
All credit given to Simon & Jasmine Dale at: http://www.simondale.net
“It’s fun. Living your own life, in your own way is rewarding. Following our dreams keeps our souls alive.!
- Avoid buying newly manufactured things, instead buy second hand or make our own.
- Avoid large chain stores and supermarkets.
- Buy things from small and local businesses.
- Favour worker cooperatives over corporations.
- Wherever possible buy direct from producers.
- Support local currencies.
- Trade or give gifts in preference to using money.
- Smile at people and meet their eyes.
- Give open-minded/hearted time to those people around us.
- Organise parties and celebrations (eg. a dinner party where everyone brings a homemade dish or a childrens party where each parent organises a game)
- Organise rotating work parties and skill-sharing events.
- Vision together the future of our communities and make it happen by a combination of negotiations with local councils and direct action. (If you think that unused roadside could make a good veg garden then get some friends together and just go ahead and do it)
Food And Land
- Propagate and plant edible perennial plants wherever possible on any available land.
- Learn how to grow food and save seeds.
- Set up personal and community food growing.
- Stick to seasonal, local and organic foods.
- Eat meat in moderation.
- Have a go at making bread, preserving food, making cheese, brewing etc..
- Enjoy cooking and eating good food. Treat our food with reverence.
- Learn what wild plants grow in our areas and learn how to use them for food and medicine.
- Protect and encourage biodiversity and wild areas (eg. a small wild patch at the bottom of your garden could be a haven for birds and small animals).
- Build a pond!
- Use wood (biomass) for heating. Install wood burners. Take firewood from the waste stream and plant local or personal firewood supplies. In a climate like Britain’s, short rotation coppice crops such as willow can be fully productive in 3 years and a 30 x 50m area can heat an efficient family house.
- Heat water with wood and solar energy. (A solar water heater can easily be made from scrap materials in a day or two.)
- Use renewable electricity. Switch mains connections to suppliers who only deal in renewable energy.
- Set up and use local or personal energy production systems. Small scale hydroelectric systems in particular offer simply maintained systems with high and reliable returns for the amount of invested energy.
- Practice basic woodwork, metalwork etc to make and repair basic items and tools.
- Compost food and human waste to build soil fertility and reduce energy demands of waste disposal.
- Withdraw investment from houses. Move to a cheaper home or make our own (most cheaply done without permission).
- Work less.
- This will free up time and energy to develop sustainable ways of living as well as removing support from destructive systems.
- Do not take employment from organisations which are unsustainable or whos actions are not benefiting the world.
- Maximise our autonomy from state and corporate control structures.
- Move from urban to rural areas and start working some land.
- Consider what elements of our world and society are of greatest value to us (air, water, food supplies, medicines…?)
- Consider what elements /service / products we could happily do without (war, this year’s fashion, more DVDs, a bigger car…?)
- Be aware that the more we have of the latter, the more we threaten the former.
- Whenever we spend money or play an active role in society, take time to consider the consequences of our actions. (Buying a tank of fuel supports the violent occupation of the middle east, buying cheap clothes supports sweatshops and child labour, buying from transnational corporations funds the extraction of capital from poorer countries and the erosion of human rights)
- Consider our modern world from the point of view of our ancesters.
- Count our blessings.
- Appreciate the beauty and fragility of life, human and otherwise.
- Make time to appreciate and congratulate ourselves – we are all amazing and powerful beings.
- Smile, laugh, love and dream. Be present and don’t worry.
Since 2003 we have been living and building on the land, working in environmental projects and community. We have found that for a few thousand pound and a few months work it is possible to create simple shelters that are in harmony with the natural landscape, ecologically sound and are a pleasure to live in. There is something powerfully alluring in such natural buildings. Their simplicity and cost makes them accessible; their beauty and use of natural materials remind us of our ancestral right and ability to live well as part of the landscape/nature/earth. We believe this dream is possible for anyone with genuine intention, will and hard work. Through this website is our best advice to inspire and assist anyone who is interested in similar ideas.
Shelter :: Earthlea
We will shortly be starting to build a three bedroom house. It will have the same hobbitat style and use the same natural materials. It will however contain enough space for teenage children and be of sufficient quality to last a satisfied lifetime.
If you are interested in coming along you could give a hand or do a course
As always we will be trying to use reclaimed and natural materials wherever possible. Since our budget is next to nothing we are also welcoming donations of things that need to come new. We are on the look out for any useful materials, including:
EPDM / heavy duty plastic for DPM/tanking and roof membranes
Expanded Polystyrene or similar for solid floor insulation. – anyone got a lorry load or two of uneeded sheets / old packaging etc?
Second hand heavy duty tarps, old marquee, lorry curtain sides etc for protecting membranes, or large amount of synthetic carpets for the same purpose.
Plumbing / Wiring supplies.
Pallets, we could do with 200 or so, could be damaged.
Straw, We’ll need a good few hundred small bales come the end of summer.
Reclaimable timber, incl. ply/ sterling board
Any other spare building materials.
Building materials hotline: 07773372280
Shelter :: The Hobbit House
This is a house I built for our family in Wales. It was built by myself and my father in law with help from passers by and visiting friends. 4 months after starting we were moved in and cosy. I estimated 1000-1500 man hours and £3000 in materials. Not really so much in house buying terms (roughly £60/sq m excluding labour).
The house was built with maximum regard for the environment and by reciprocation gave us a unique opportunity to live close to nature. It housed our family whilst we worked in the woodland surrounding the house doing ecological woodland management and setting up a forest garden, things that would have been impossible had we had to pay a regular rent or mortgage. The main tools used were a chainsaw, hammer and 1 inch chisel, little else really. I was not a builder or carpenter, my experience was only having had a go at one similar house 2yrs before and a bit of mucking around inbetween. This kind of building is accessible to anyone. My main relevant skills were being able bodied, having self belief and perseverence and a mate or two to give a lift now and again.
Some key points of the design and construction:
Dug into hillside for low visual impact and shelter
Stone and mud from diggings used for retaining walls, foundations etc.
Frame of oak thinnings (spare wood) from surrounding woodland
Reciprocal roof rafters are structurally and aesthaetically fantastic and very easy to do
Straw bales in floor, walls and roof for super-insulation and easy building
Plastic sheet and mud/turf roof for low impact and ease
Lime plaster on walls is breathable and low energy to manufacture (compared to cement)
Reclaimed (scrap) wood for floors and fittings
Anything you could possibly want is in a rubbish pile somewhere (windows, burner, plumbing, wiring…)
Woodburner for heating – renewable and locally plentiful
Flue goes through big stone/plaster lump to retain and slowly release heat
Fridge is cooled by air coming underground through foundations
Skylight in roof lets in natural feeling light
Solar panels for lighting, music and computing
Water by gravity from nearby spring
Roof water collects in pond for garden etc.
These are by along way the best drawings I ever did of the house, after it was made.
The design of the house comes mostly from the combination of the following considerations:
Analysis of functions > elements > materials
Site survey (slope, features, aspect, access etc.)
Zoning, relationships of activities and requirements
Aesthetic, sculptural play
See how it goes, what works and feels good
NB. Ideally the design of our lives is seamless with integrated relations between all the spaces, activities and things with which we live. In this case however, mention is limited to that which comes inside the physical structure of the house to save unravelling the whole of the metaphorical woolly jumper.
|basic function||supporting elements||primary choice||reasons why||requirements||solutions|
|Dry||a waterproof…||Plastic membrane and earth||
|…supported roof,||Roundwood timber frame||
||Fiddly to integrate square components (eg. door frames etc.)||
|Warm||with heat source…||Log burner||
|…and retention||Straw bale insulation||
After building and living in the hobbit house, we left it for the woodland workers passing through this beautiful place. In 2009 we finally bought our own place, a 7 acre piece of land as part of the Lammas eco village in West Wales. The opportunity to really be somewhere, to integrate our basic needs of shelter, energy, food and a livelihood now has a permanent place to take root and grow. Being creative with what is available; minimising energy and pollution; and careful observation is our basic approach. So far we have built a small house, the Undercroft; a workshop and barn. Tree planting, pond creation, vegetable beds, fruit, composting and animals are the beginning of a self reliant, resilient and biodiverse home.
The Building Process
|The site before starting||Hole dug and level, post positions marked out, dry stone foundation walls down, first retaining wall built against front bank.|
|30 or so small trees and a bit of chainsawing later. Lift logs, prop up, nail together and continue until no longer wobbly.||Split logs over the top and palettes on the floor. Tree in to prop up sleeping platform. Palettes on the floor to take insulating bales.|
|Straw delivery. Cotton sheets then straw bales on the roof and cover it up with plastic, other bales inside, quick before it rains.||Build straw bale wall inside, a fun and quick job. The bales are stacked on rough dry stone wall and staked together with hazel sticks. Inside bales go on pallette floor ready for floorboards on top.|
|Pop windows in the holes, stuff straw into any gaps then chainsaw trim the bales smooth with cute roundy corners.||Father-in-law and tool bench, 4.30am. All tools lost, snowing outside, no doors, plastering underway.|
|Spring, mud on the roof, plastering and whitewashing done, landscaping nearly finished, beer brewing, bread in the oven.|
Only three generations ago most of us had ancestors living in the countryside and were skilled in woodwork, plants, craft, weaving and so on. Like many people, we wished to reclaim these ways and return to having a direct relationship to the land, do things for ourselves, enjoy a high standard of living and have fun. Committing ourselves to this land and simple living is our way of taking responsibility for our impact on the world as best we can. Every day we learn more about this place and can integrate our needs with the landscape we are in. Time to observe cycles and seasons is giving the opportunity to become neo-indigenous; architects of our own lives and genuine stewards of the land.
Land :: Forest Gardens
Forest Gardening is another name for mixed agroforestry, i.e. growing herbaceous, shrubs and trees together to form mutually beneficial relationships. This model provides for human needs within an ecosystem that supports wildlife and biodiversity, in other words it is resilient and high yielding.. Robert Hart brought the idea of forest gardens from the tropics years ago, where he saw abundant food, fibre and medicine growing in a semi wild forest. He compared the efficiency and ecological value of this compared to deserts of monoculture crops needing constant work and fertility inputs and sought to emulate this in a temperate climate in England. Nowadays the leading example of this is Martin Crawford’s 2 acre site at Dartington College in Devon and he has captured the imagination of a generation of permaculture gardeners with the promise of a low energy, highly designed food forest.
Key principles that inform forest gardening in the UK:
LayersPerennialsShade and spacingGuildsDiversityFertility self sufficientWindbreaks
For me a forest garden has almost a mythical quality, conjuring images of fruit laden woodlands and sacred groves. It simultaneously satisfies my dreams of living in landscape of ancient trees, surrounded by birds and animals whilst giving me a practical model to address my fears for the future of food security and increasingly erratic weather.
Below are some pictures of our young forest garden at Berllan Dawel. Berllan is the welsh word for orchard which beautifully translates as sacred place of sweet luscious things; Dawel means peaceful or quiet. In time we want the whole plot to feel like a forest garden, the veg beds and ponds becoming glades within it. So when the wind howls through the infant windbreak, spindly cherry trees break in half and words are heated I’m trusting the name and intention for this place will happen, but three years is early days for a woodland ecosystem!
Creating a Forest Garden by Martin CrawfordForest Gardening by Robert HartHow to make a forest garden by P.WhitefieldPlants for a Future by K. FernPlant and seed suppliers:Agroforestry Research TrustCool TemperateGourmet Organic
Land: Wild Soil
In nature there is no uncovered soil for long. An occasional tree uprooted by wind, a freshly dug mole hill or a landslide is soon densely covered by vegetation. This protects the soil from erosion drying out and dying. Even the surfaces of rocks, deadwood and manmade materials are colonised by mosses and fungi in an ever flow of life towards more complex and diverse ecosystems, supporting more species. As soil is the medium in which our life support systems grow, permaculture systems have a principle of keeping soil covered wherever possible.
This principle is called wild soil. In practice this means preferring perennial and self seeding plants; protecting bare soil and clearing ground for cultivation through mulching. Perennials live for more than one year, so this can include trees, bushes, herbs and roots. By their nature they have bigger, more established root systems and so can often withstand more extremes of weather, pests and disease. This provides resilience, extremely desirable in the face of erratic weather and legions of slugs. Think of the robustness of a blackcurrant bush compared to a carrot seedling!
We love normal annual vegetables, however introducing a few perennials that don’t need to be planted year after year, means much less work involved too. A good example are perennial brassicas and alliums, which can replace in flavour, if not in texture, cabbages and onions. A shift in perspective can cultivate herbs eg mallow and trees eg lime as salad grown on bushes and trees.
Permaculture is a toolkit to integrate land use, dwellings and natural ecosystems in a way that is permanently sustainable. By working with nature’s cycles, energies and resources, we can design our surroundings to meet our needs in a way that cares for the earth, people and allows individual conscience to determine what and how much we consume. Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, earth scientists, devised permaculture in the 1970s as a response to oil crises and realisation that there are limits to economic growth in a world of finite natural capital. They carefully observed natural systems that flourished and indigenous people that lived in harmony with their environment and came up with principles and practices to create such a world in our time.
Three fundamental ideas emerged:
ObservationPermaculture principles and ethicsDesign process
Nearly 50 years later, permaculture is a huge topic and practiced in diverse ways. Many of the ideas are ancient and common sense and overlap with non permaculture activity. The essence remains that instead of using huge amounts of fossil fuels or hard graft, permaculture offers a third way: creative design with its unlimited yield of our imaginations. We can think of permaculture as a lens we can look through at a task or project, a tool to find solutions or a game we can play to make a plan.
There are tons of books, courses and films out there to find out more, some we can personally recommend are in the resources box below.Introduction to Permaculture by Bill MollisonThe Permaculture Garden by G. BellForest Gardening by R. HartEarth Care Manual by P. WhitefieldEarth Path by StarhawkPeople Care by Looby MacnamaraPattern Language by C. Alexander et alFilms:Farm for a futureGlobal GardenerLa Belle Vert
In some ways thinking has got a bad reputation, as not grounded or practical. However when we’re designing ecologically and socially sound projects that resonate with what is relevant to us, tools simplify a load of complex factors and help us reach a good decision. Imagine a carpenter, when they want to do a job they choose a tool, i.e to make a cut they choose a saw. It would be pretty inefficient, frustrating and even hazardous to pick up a hammer and attack the task with no mental organisation as to what and why they were doing. It is likely that if we were completely in harmony and symbiotic with our environment such tools would be obselete, but in a fragmented world, often distant from the skills and knowing our ancestors embodied, pattern languages help realign us with what is true, good and beautiful with minimum harm to other beings.
So permaculture tools are frameworks and processes for thinking about a problem or plan; they organise our thoughts and allow our mind to bring foward the relevant information or activity. The brain loves patterns and uses them to reduce the huge complexity of life to simple operational stuff. Below is a summary of some tools to use when designing. This can be applied to any scale from planning an event, to working out how to build and site a dwelling on a piece of land.
Below are some steps to get you started.
Observation is fundamental to good design. The tendency of humans to control and react to the world has created the unsustainable world we are grappling with. So to truly observe and not jump to conclusions can radically maximise our positive impact, allowing being before doing. The key to observation tools is not to think of solutions:
This is good to do with children, who are professional wonderers. Walk around your site or contemplate your idea saying ‘I wonder …?’ For example, ‘I wonder why that fern grows there? I wonder why I feel nervous in this setting?’
LISTENING TO THE LANDSCAPE
This exercise was devised by Chris Day, and is described as 4 modes of listening. Take yourself to your site and go through the modes, making notes before or afterwards. Between 5 minutes and an hour for each one is a good start.
‘Intuitive’: first impressions; walk the boundaries of a site; gut feelings etc’Objective’: collect measurable data eg species, numbers, size of area, weather etc’Imaginative’: picture the landscape and its inhabitants 10,000 years ago and into the future’Subjective’: go to a place you are drawn to and do the first thing that comes into your head
SURVEY: PLACE AND PEOPLE: MAPS
A good survey will include the place and people involved and an accurate to scale map (this should be a map of existing features rather than proposed ideas!) For people, be sure to separate out different groups or individuals to get a true reading of the situation and to include yourself, whether as designer or participant. One way to simplify a survey is to break it down into the elements:
Earth can include soil, materials available (natural, man made, money, landform, species).
Air can include wind patterns, ventilation, thoughts and ideas.
Water can include water sources such as rainfall, taps, roofs, rivers; water catchment such as ponds, butts etc; emotions and feelings.
Sun can include aspect (north, south facing etc), average temperatures, sun traps, frost pockets, shade, passions, creativity.
Spirit could be your people survey, what skills they bring, limits they have, what they want to put in and get out of a design/project. It can also include spiritual beliefs, sacred spots and beautiful views.
KEY PLANNING TOOLS
This is not an inspiring name but these are great tools for looking at a site and starting to plan activities:
This is looking at patterns of how frequently a place is used and its proximity from ourselves. This starts to minimise wasted effort by placing elements (things) in places to use the least energy. What your situation is determines what your zoning will be; a block of flats or a farm have all the zones but their detail will be quite different. Zone 1 is patios, front gardens, herb beds etc. Zone 2 perennial garden, shed. Zone 3 orchards, grazing. Zone 4 coppice. Zone 5 wilderness.
Map the wind, sun, water, frost and soil conditions on your site. You can use overlays of each of these sectors on a map to see where stuff is most appropriate eg. the shade sector will show where the veg garden shouldn’t go but where trees would be fine.
This is the slope or direction your site faces. In the northern hemisphere, a southern aspect gets a lot of sun. A northern aspect will get limited sun at some times of day and year, east gets morning sun and west late afternoon and evening.
Get as accurate idea as possible of the gradient and variations on your site. Its amazing how inaccurate the eye is once you start making foundations.
This tool means how high above sea level you are. Eg we are 175-195m high. This gives valuable information about what grows where and weather conditions generally.
By now you will have a lot of information and your subconscious has had lots of time to organise it all and by now your ideas for a design will probably be bubbling up. There are lots of ways to analyse the collected treasure, here are a few good ones:
ELEMENTS AND FUNCTIONS
Start thinking of things as elements (things eg pond, greenhouse, kitchen) and functions (storing water, growing salads, cooking). Then a good practice is to make sure every element you want does at least two functions, this is for efficiency. For example, a stove cooks, heats water and space, dries clothes etc. A group of trees might give food, fiber, habitat, windbreak, privacy. Complimenting this is to ensure every function is fulfilled by at least two elements, for security. For example, water storage could be a pond, water butts, soil structure and contouring the land.
You can take this further at a systems level by writing down all the inputs and outputs of each element. and then match the outputs (yields) of one thing to the inputs (needs of another) to close the loop. Try to think as laterally as possible. An example might be a roof. Its needs might be structural, aesthetic, spatial etc and its yields might include obscuring a view, nesting for birds, rainwater catchment. Then when you’re mapping other functions and elements you can identify links. The roof becomes a valuable source of water for a polytunnel or bathroom. The needs of a neighbour to see something pleasant and the roof design might accommodate this by being turfed which would in turn provide other benefits and so on.
‘An unmet need = work or fossil fuels. An unused yield = pollution’ (B.Mollison)
Pick an aspect of the situation (this can be of what already exists or of what you are proposing) and write down the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Constraints
Similar is to ask yourself what is Positive, Negative and Interesting.
Use to scale maps and models wherever practical. Cut out templates of your main elements and play around with them to bring the design together on paper or make a model out of whats available, clay, lego, mashed potato!
Below is David Holmgren’s interpretation of the PC principles. Check through your ideas to see if they resonate, new ideas or modifications may appear. Don’t worry too much about what they mean, your own interpretation is good enough.
Check your design decisions to see if they include:
Earth care: ecosystems: soil, water, ecology, biodiversity, air
People care: patterns: social organisation, affect on others and self
Fair shares: limits to consumption: Ask our conscience what limits and compromises we can accept.
Reflecting on what worked and what didn’t and how we would act differently yields vital information for sustainable design. The more we observe and feedback and adjust our behaviour the more likely we are to truly be somewhere rather than just be using resources and doing stuff to the world.
EVALUATION AND TWEAK
There’s lots of ways to evaluate and then tweak your design. The analysis tools above of SWOC and PNI are good. Remember to evaluate not just the content of what you did/ are doing but also how well the tools and surveys you used to plan worked. The tweak is the adaptions you make. This is called action learning in permaculture design and is vital to turn mistakes into mis – takes; trial and error becomes try-alls and dismantles the perception that life is fixed rather than a process of experimentation.
PROBLEM IS THE SOLUTION
Turn problems on their heads to become the solution. For example, too windy then grow windbreak trees giving a firewood yield, put up a turbine, become a small business drying people’s washing without fossil fuels!
The Permaculture Magazine lists tons of great design courses for an in depth approach to design tools. We are running some courses applying these simple design tools to a dwelling integrated with the land, food, firewood and greywater systems.Earth Path by StarhawkAranyaPeople and Permaculture by L. MacnamaraEarth Care Manual by P.Whitefield
This page is due an update. Wales wide OPD planning policy is now in force and the best hope for this type of development.
Whilst I’m primarily talking about the UK planning systems, I hope the following may also be of use to those in other countries.
The British Town and Country Planning Act was introduced in 1947 to control the development and use of land. Other countries have similar legislation. This means that when we want to use a piece of land to live on or provide self sufficiency and livelihood we should seek permission for both any building work and any change of use of the land (as well as mining, engineering and other operations).
Whilst this system protects our land from uncontrolled development it has also come to play a important role in our economy. Our economy now grows by giving loans and creating more money in the form of debt. Rising house prices coupled with increasingly tenuous mortgage lending provide a crucial contribution to the growth and therefore stability of our economy.
The value of houses is related not primarily to the cost of their construction but to the permission to use that land for residential use. A quarter acre of an agricultural field might here be worth £1000. As soon as permission is granted for change of use to a residential building plot it becomes worth £100,000. So that puts £99,000 extra onto our national balance sheet, which the new homeowner is expected to pay off. Paying off this mortgage may well take the owner their entire working life and severely restricts their scope to live a simple and sustainable life.
There are planning regulations that control permission for those in agricultural enterprises to build and live on their land. This is close to suiting the low impact dweller who wishes to live on their piece of land in a simple way and work with that piece of land. These regulations require proof that both the enterprise is viable and that there is a strict functional need to live on the site. In practice viability of the enterprise is interpreted on its bottom line profit, this does not account for either produce derived for self sufficiency or for the fact that a very modest income is sufficient to support a simple way of life. In addition the functional need test is wildly variable in its interpretation and does not allow for the fact that living elsewhere may be economically crippling. (The test is more often related to the need for 24 hour attention to lambing ewes, burning charcoal kilns, or even battery chicken farm air conditioning backup systems -true example!)
Contrary to popular belief, in Britain it is not illegal to carry out building works and changes of use without applying for planning permission before-hand. It is acceptable to instead make a retrospective application. Of course it is possible that this application could be refused. This is the approach favoured by Tesco supermarkets who rely on a mutually agreeable financial arrangement to ensure approval. It is also the approach that has most successfully been used by both low impact dwellers and many more conventional farmers although these people have generally had to rely on paperwork and logic to ensure eventual permission.
In addition our planning departments do not have a general remit to enforce against unpermitted development, only to process applications and follow up on complaints. This is an significant retention of liberty and common sense. If I get a piece of land and build a monstrous palace which I use as a base for having excessively loud parties. My neighbours will probably complain to the council who will demand a retrospective application which they’d refuse and then serve an enforcement order for me to demolish the building. On the other hand, if I build a modest and discreet house on a piece of land somewhere and all my neighbours have no problem with what I am doing, the need to make a planning application will not arise. In this case, after 10 years the building and change of use will be eligible for a certificate of lawful use, meaning a planning application is not needed. If there is not a change of use, lawful use is granted after 4 years.
Many low impact living projects have now be granted temporary or permanent permission through the retrospective applications usually followed by appeals. Such cases are arguable through agricultural technicalities as well as appeals to general ecological and social commitments.
Agenda 21 says: “Access to land resources is an essential component of sustainable low-impact lifestyles. Land resources are the basis for (human) living systems and provide soil, energy, water and the opportunity for all human activity.” and commits us to the objective of providing for “the land requirements of human settlement development through environmentally sound physical planning and land use so as to ensure access to land to all households and, where appropriate, the encouragement of communally and collectively owned and managed land.”
And in the words of the Landmatters Project’s’ appeal inspector: “Permaculture is now an internationally recognised means of sustainable agriculture and the subject of much academic study in recent years. Moreover, the direction of travel of emerging national policy towards ever more sustainable approaches to development and the need to address the problem of climate change is readily apparent…In such a context I find there to be considerable ecological, educational and cultural benefits in further exploring permaculture…from the development of and experimentation with sustainable technologies and agricultural practices which that way of life facilitates” and “in order to practice permaculture properly and successfully…a substantial and continuous residential presence is essential”
This increasingly well trodden route of development and retrospective application has been the generally advised route for low impact development and gave us our homes for 4 years with very little complication. We never came to having to argue an appeal and we were never forced to demolish our home. We were encouraged by the worst case scenario that house were enforced against immediately and subsequently demolished after the inevitable couple of years paperwork. Over this time period the cost and amount of work it takes to make a simple home is small compared to the cost of renting a conventional house, not to mention the quality of our experience over that period.
Low Impact Development Policies
Over the last two years, we have spent our time following a different approach. Since the introduction of a groundbreaking low impact development policy in Pembrokeshire (SW Wales) we have been involved with the Lammas Project trying to get prior permission for a 9 dwelling low impact settlement. Our hope is that in so doing we will set the precedent which then makes it an easy route without the uncertainty of the ‘retrospective’ approach.
The Low Impact Development Policy is a farsighted and one which could potentially unlock a groundbreaking positive change. Under it, someone working and living on their land in a sustainable way and deriving their livelihood from that land is allowed to do so on agricultural land. This effectively subsidises sustainable livelihoods which would otherwise be economically unviable in the current, unsustainable financial climate.
Pembrokeshire have not yet managed to conclude any of the applications made under the policy. Whilst ours has been a frustrating process, we are still hopeful for a good result soon. Friends of ours who made a retrospective application under the same policy are in a better situation. They applied for 2 years temporary permission and have been living on and working their land for the 18 months since they submitted their application!
Similar policies are currently in consultation phase for Wales nationally and England is also making moves in the same direction.
I would currently recommend development followed by a retrospective application as required, preferably in Pembrokeshire, as the best approach for individual or groups wishing start a new low impact living project. There are also a number of established projects about who are open to new members (see resources page). Chapter 7 are a campaign group and planning consultancy for low impact development. They are almost certainly the experts on low impact planning matters and have some excellent publications and online resources.
This was an interview which I was sent in 2007, after a year or so in the hobbit house. It was one of my first attempts to articulate the principles behind what we were doing following instinct and fun, rather than ideals. I certainly knew nothing about what organic architecture meant in the architectural tradition !
Since when do you live in an organic house?
5 years ago
Was it a conscientious decision to move to an organic house, which were your influences in the first place?
Yes, but to be natural (nontoxic/low energy/eco), close to nature and self built were our first priorities. Being built mostly from imagination, optimism and rubbish,the process is naturally organic. Being organic in terms of forms seems to come naturally given the above. Also my aesthetic is generally soft and curved, coming mostly from the natural world. Between making my first and second houses I read Christopher Day who explains well the benefits of organic forms in architecture for our minds and soul. This seemed to vindicate my instincts.
What are, for you, the big differences between living in an traditional straight lines house, or living in an organic one?
Suits my aesthetic. Feels gentle. Feels to me more like being part of the(natural) world,less like a commodity in a box. Rectangular rooms do feel box-like and slightly claustrophobic in comparison.
Do you think that living in an organic house affected your way of being, your personality, and if so, in which way?
I think we overuse the cause and effect model. More usually it is two (or an infinite number actually) things co-evolving or mutually related. This is certainly true here, there is a change, but lifestyle, values, and material situation change together rather than one leading another. In my case at least this is true.
If you moved a random person (from a town flat say) to an organic natural house in the middle of nature it would affect them. They would probably fight it or love it.
How do people react to the fact that you live in an organic house?
Nearly everyone is interested. In the whole lifestyle mostly although the house does seem to have some kind of innate appeal. I think it touches something common, a romantic idea of some fantasy past/alternative. Everyone says it is a hobbit house, they all love the lord of the rings at the moment.I think Tolkien draws the hobbits as the naïve or innocent representation of humans in a wholesome natural state. People instictively relate to this, especially in the context of modernity.
Is it a subject that raises discussion? … living in an organic house?
It’s handy for a bit of suprising small talk, although explaining our lives can be difficult. Suggesting positive alternatives to the standard route often raising some uncomfortable feelings. Mostly these feelings are of an implied criticism of the way others lead their lives, in terms of ecological responsibility and the following of ones own dreams. These are both hard things to approach for all of us with lots of barriers from our societal conditioning and our own accumulated pains. I find Joanna Macy is very good at showing us ways to take our frustration at these barriers and turn it into positive action for ourselves and the world. I would make no claim that what we are doing is any better than anything else. I’d only say that this is where we are currently up to and this is what is working for us. If any of it can provide an inspiration for others to follow the path of what feels right for them then hooray!
Do you have many friends living or wanting to live in an organic house?
Everyone wants to take personal control of their own lives. To live in an environment that is close to nature and kind on the soul is a common aspiration. Also self building is a real current trend, in Britain at least. Inevitably, most of the promotion and help in doing it comes from those with commercial stakes in the industry and promotes self building in ways which are convenient and profitable for them. This means that people are introduced to a set of options that are actually quite limited in terms of the ways to create a home, particularly in terms of high costs, formulaic construction and mass produced modular components. Hence the dominance of linear forms. Actually comfortable and natural homes can be created in ways that are simple, cheap and allow massive scope for creativity and building quite literally outside the box!
There are increasing numbers of people making their own homes similar to ours. They are making some beautiful, accessable and highly functional houses. The more people who do, the more inspiration and support there will be for the next ones, as we owe ours to those who came before us.
would it be realistic to think that one day the majority of people will live or want to live in an organic house? What do you believe would be the consequences?
It is right and natural that different people have different aesthetics and I’m sure there will always be those who prefer straight lines to organic curves. However the dominance of linear forms comes largely from the aesthetic of the modernist movement and the world of mass production. I think we are moving beyond this now, both in our philosophy and the practicalities of our world. The age of cheap energy may well becoming to an end, as we respond to both environmental imperatives and dwindling supplies of oil. I think and hope that this will lead to more small scale, low energy solutions to meeting our real needs. This should mean an increase in individually produced homes of natural and local materials. This in turn means more opportunities for creative, non-linear and organic designs.
Does living in an organic house have any inconvenient?
It does make it tricky to integrate cast off furniture. We don’t have any flat walls and not much level floor! Luckily we’re not that much into IKEA stuff anyway.
By the way, Hundertwasser was keen to avoid flat floors because he thought it was unnatural for us. I was pleased to follow his recommendations and simultaneously avoid the trouble of leveling the floor.
Do your furniture and objects enter in the organic design?
Ideally, in terms of aesthetics, they would all be integrated, from the surrounding environment,through the shell of the building and on to the furniture, fittings, objects and people that inhabit the space. Also I would love to know the hands that made every object in my life.
why do you think that there are two separate movements going on: the eco/biological architecture and the organic architecture?
Maybe it is again about the industry. I am glad that we are seeing a increase in ecological constuction even in mainstream building. Still though I see this as being very much tied up with the convenience of mass production and hence linear forms. As for organic architecture, we don’t see much of it around and I think that most people just think that Gaudi has a trademark on anything with a curve. It’s probably just not cost-effective on the scale of industrialised construction unless there is lots of cash and passion involved which is a rare mix.
wouldn’t it make sense to integrate them?
When building is done in the way that I am talking about, what I’d call low-impact building, it’s done on the ground by the person whose building it is, who is the architect and builder, who is working with respect for nature around and inside themselves. Then I think the process and result will be organic in every way and ecological. There would be no separation.
What is your relation with nature?
We are all a part of nature unquestionably, we are animals of the earth. What remains is how see ourselves in relation to the rest of that living system. We can honour and celebrate it for its own innate value. Alternatively we can value it as a resource for our use. This is the distinction Arne Naess and others make by talking about deep as opposed to shallow ecology. When we adopt a deep ecological or ecocentric view of the world, it then makes sense to live in away which is as close as possible to a true synergy with nature.
how do you explain the relation between organic architecture and a more natural way of living?
The attempt to find a synergy with nature is then the approach that we are using to design systems for living. These systems include buildings, food production, waste and water systems and much more. When we are working with rather than against nature, the rest of nature works with us and things become easy. This is Permaculture.
Do you have any advice for people who would like to go and live in an organic house?
Having your own home which is a part of you can be simple. Start from “what do I need?” and “what do I have?” not “what can I buy?” or “what do other people do?”. Do a permaculture course or read a book. Be inventive, try things out, do things the easy way. Look in skips. BE BOLD.