Posts Tagged ‘eco houses’

In the early 1970s, like many, I was restless, on the look out for something… something…. As the song says: There’s more to life than this – better ways of living.
I had been keeping an eye on the Commune movement in Britain through the magazine, imaginatively titled Commune, the Journal of the Commune Movement.
This, and many other underground publications, were available from Mike Don, at The Magic Village:,and later through the early version of the shop, On The Eighth Day. All based in Manchester.

The magazine gave regular updates of experiments in living, from their place in South Wales.
Why I followed this, I don’t know – I would have hated to have lived like that. What was it Roy Harper had written/sung: To think of us all under the same roof/ with one common destination/when all we do is remain aloof/like we have no close relation – ?

One variation of this, was for small groups to build their own places – from scraps scavenged from public dumps, or just dumped. A few things always puzzled me about this. One was, the land – unlike America, every scrap of land in Britain is fiercely owned. And Public dumps – well, now, if you try to remove one single item you’d be grabbed, accused of theft and all the rest of the palaver. You can only think that the Councils who own the dumps make a reasonable profit from selling-on the many serviceable items left – and don’t want no competition, no sir.

I saw examples of these new places: not architecturally permitted, and built any-old-how. Builders dumped remnants of renovated buildings, and these groups re-used them. They favoured south-facing bedroom walls made out of windows, or west-facing to catch glorious sunsets: all glass. East-facing bedroom window walls to catch brilliant dawns for the fabled ‘new days.’
This was the tail-end of the hippie movement, before it collapsed and they, in turn, collapsed in on themselves, splintered into isolated groups smashed into oblivion on drugs, weird religions, increasingly vicious politics.

These alternative living experiements tended to be out in the countryside where open land was, ie not built-up. How’d they keep them warm in winter? Burn wood, of course. Ahem.
They used waste-recycle systems: including human waste. They utilised natural springs, streams, creating oudoor showers (in Britain, anytime of year – brrr).

Parallel to all these were/are the urban communes. The current form is that of communal houses, or properties that house many families who, although, family units, merge child-rearing, and domestic duties. A kibbutzim principle; it has always attracted, but I have also feared its short-comings.
The 1985 Amos Oz novel, A PERFECT PEACE, Fontana Paperbacks, gives a rivetting depiction of the at times stifling and uncreative Kibbutzim atmosphere.
Where does one fit into such a scheme when one does not know/have definable parameters of ability? Of course the circumstances described in the book are vastly different: the impact of living surrounded by increasingly mortal enemies.

It was all about that thought of not being part of ‘the system’ with its housing , estates, house-buying-shenanigans – of being able to take control of our own lives.
Of course, like the communistas, money has to come from somewhere: from working, in ‘the system.’

One example that particularly caught my attention was a house built inside a hill. There was the entrance of course, and just big sun-facing windows visible. All the rest was underground. First of all there must be problems with getting enough light throughout. Most such houses used light-wells in the centre that diffused the light through the arranged rooms. Maybe something of the Roman example, here: the peristylium effect.
I can’t tell you how many years I have tried to work out how the walls could be kept moisture-free.

So, where are we now? I came across Cobtun, recently.

Cobtun is a made from the old Anglo-Saxon ‘cob’ materials: straw, water, earth.

– My older brother had a hand in constructing the neolithic huts at the Stonehenge site, in Wiltshire. They are round structures, with a central hearth, and thatch roofs. A wall was built before the doorway in some examples,  to cut off wind’s direct access. It is presumed cloths and skins would be strung across the doorways also. They had no windows. These were temporary shelters.

– A childhood memory is that of the hut circles on Holyhead Mountain, in North Wales:
The views must have been spectacular, but winters horrendous.

Back to Cobtun: Cobtun was built in 2001. It is advertised as: 25 sides… only one 90-degree angle in the whole house.
It is not aesthetic to look at, and owners do not tend to stay long. But as an example of a self-sustaining eco house, that is almost wholly eco-powered… it would seem churlish to moan.
I suspect the quick change-over of tenancy is due to cost of buying the place: only for the wealthy, which means older people who have accrued sufficient funds. Being older, however, they would tend to be less adaptable to radical change – and the house would require radical changes in living patterns and behaviour.
The write-up goes on: the cob walls are 2ft thick by 15ft high – so, not as high as a conventional house. One of the bedrooms has an earth wall… surprisingly nice… hard… tactile. It also has lots of oak-clad timbers .

Cobtun house won the 2005 Riba sustainability award.
The roof, though – we have not mentioned the roof. That is because it is of corrugated aluminium. It is lined with solar tubes for water heating – which explains the choice of corrugation. The house also has lots of dark concrete surfaces – these, the article claims, store heat from the sun, and act like radiators. A utility room absorbs moisture from drying clothes etc.

There is much here to commend it, and some to make you pause (concrete?).
Cobtun house marks the point where flaky lefties, tree-huggy-thinking’s aims and ideals have become mainstream – that is, commercial, exploitable, to be profited-from.