Rethinking Construction – Low Impact Building
From the outside, it looked like a large hobbit house held as a timeless showcase of fascination. It was tucked halfway within the hillside, the roof the same natural bouquet of mixed grasses and wildflowers found throughout the surrounding landscape. A greenhouse attached to the home dwelling, and running the length of the front outside wall, housed the shower at one end, next to the sunflowers. Everything was curved and arched—the doorframe, the front patio, the rim of the roof. A glance inside of the house revealed not just as an aesthetically awarding structure, but also a true masterpiece of architecture. It was a roundhouse, a large open space with only partially divided rooms. The design formally known as a reciprocal roof is a self-supporting structure in which the tree poles run atop each other, forming a spiral-type shape as the ceiling. No nails, no bolts or screws, no centerpiece supports. Just the bodies of trees with a wild garden on top.
Nothing about this house is traditional. But then everything about it is. It is just outside the traditions of our time. More than a building of walls and windows and a roof, it is a construct of intelligence and integrity, ingenuity and sensitivity. It is the home of Simon Dale, a resident of the Lammas Project, the first authorized low-impact ecovillage of Wales. He has built other homes before, but says he built his first with nearly no prior experience in construction or architecture. In fact, nearly every builder on the nine plots into which Lammas is divided says the same thing: they don’t have much building experience, if any at all; they are simply inspired to design and create a higher standard of home.
Now, this is an interesting concept that we could apply to many areas. What if we could design and construct and provide for ourselves with the materials that we knew, and the labor that we could gather? In terms of one’s dwelling place, rather than it being built for us with materials that are literally as harsh as a mild hazardous wasteland with more carcinogens than a metropolis highway, why not build with what the woodland provides? Here, follow the logic if it is clear enough. If we work days and weeks and months in order to pay for the things we need or want, and then realize that we actually have the ability and capability to provide the things that we need or want for ourselves, and can actually do it better, why not downsize the line of complexity, and do it ourselves? What is really stopping the masses from doing this? I believe it has to do with the way we see, as well as how we are accustomed to the conventional labels of value.
I am not suggesting that we must all become natural builders or organic farmers. This would be a tragedy in itself. It would establish the monoculture of conventional farming as the monoculture of human culture. What I am suggesting is that we look beyond the present boundary of sight, beyond just the house with walls and windows and a roof, beyond just the groceries we prepare our meals with, beyond just the clothing we wear or products we are adorned convenience with. When our sight ends at these things, then their value is determined on how well they are performing, and how well they are servicing us. The best way I think to describe this is a “shallowness of sight,” which is not to say that we are “shallow” people in that sense, but that we rarely see further than what the image portrays. It becomes far too difficult to imagine the trees beyond the timber, the forest beyond the trees, the land beyond the forest, and the weathers and seasons and history beyond the land. And it seems impractical to do so, for we would spend our entire days imagining these things. What needs to happen is for us to pull back the curtain on what the image portrays. This would require seeing things in their true value, which would be breaking the mold of subjective value and monetary value.
Now, the critic of this suggestion may counter, “But I paid for these things. And I worked darn hard so I could pay for them.” This is a respectful claim, but the problem is that the land and its resources have not adopted our exchange currency of value. The prices we pay are the “shallow” prices. They meet only a very little portion of the product’s true value. Our sight is limited only because we have accepted that the market value is the true value. A house is not built with money, we know this. This is common sense, but it is also revelation. Because again, nothing about the land operates this way. The only real currency that the land knows is the currency of good use. So, when our standard of home becomes only a standard of good use, our kitchens and bedrooms are no longer painted with hazardous chemicals, but are comprised of integrity and ingenuity.
From this standpoint, projects such as building your own home becomes not just a do-it-yourself occupation that simplifies the process of attaining the things we need or want, but actually gets much closer to its true value, and adopts a clearer appreciation for that value.
For more information on Simon Dale and the Lammas Project please visit Simondale.net