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Category: Books August 26th, 2010 by mbc

I get laughed at when I insist on using a bowsaw from time-to-time instead of a chainsaw. I’m glad to read that I’m not the only one who appreciates the rhythm and relative silence of this method of cutting wood.

From Woodland

I worked with a small triangular bowsaw. It is surprising how much you can do with one in a day. Bowsaws have the supreme advantage of being quiet and allowing you to work at your own human pace. The manic dictatorship of the chainsaw seems to deafen you to all reason or judgement. A chainsaw is ideal for mechanical jobs like cutting up logs, but deprives you of the greatest pleasure of working in the woods: the opportunity to listen to the natural sounds around you.

From Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain~ Roger Deakin

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A Place of My Own

Category: Books January 20th, 2010 by mbc

For anyone with an interest in building, conversion or renovation, or in just getting your hands dirty, Michael Pollans ‘A Place of My Own’ is a great opportunity for some self reflection through Pollans written account of his own experiences in constructing ‘a room of  [his] own making‘.


The book is an insightful, introspective diary of experiences in building a writing hut (a shed with a desk in it) in the woods behind the New England home of the author.

Pollans style is chatty and assured. His journey from hopeless sub-DIYer to trainee craftsman gives hope to us all, even those of us with two left thumbs.

This is a book for the interested, if this sounds like a journey you yourself would like to take then it’s thoroughly recommended, otherwise you may find it deadly dull.

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Category: Books October 8th, 2009 by mbc

I’ve really enjoyed Roger Deakin’s ‘Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees’, the book takes you on a gentle journey, part biography, part manifesto, part travelogue.

As I expect to be spending substantial amounts of time sourcing, collecting, cutting, splitting and stacking logs to keep us warm over the winter, one particular quote struck me as good advice – advice that I’ll try to apply whenever I get around to building that wood store …

…a mosaic of cut log ends that wall the whole of the south-facing end. The summer sun will dry out the end grain, drawing out the sap until the wood is pure energy for the fire.

Anthony Watts’ recent comment on external insulation on my Insulation post (damn, I’ve still not finished that series of posts!) also reminded me of other passages in the same book, where when travelling through eastern Europe, Roger saw houses with great stacks of logs against the house walls, drying whilst improving insulation. Perhaps not a whole solution but potentially a partial, practical, low cost (assuming Anthony burns wood) one.

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Ecohouse 2 – A design Guide

Category: Books January 29th, 2008 by mbc

Sue Roaf, Manuel Fuentes, Stephanie Thomas ~ 2003, Architectural Press.

This is the second edition of this book and has two introductions – one for each edition. The introductions carry the usual messages of doom regarding rising sea levels and diminished fossil fuels that pang of preaching to the converted, but sets the context for the book. This is a book about eco-houses and in its terms that means zero fossil fuel and low or zero carbon buildings.

3rd edition now available:

The books starts with a chapter on ‘the building as an analogy‘ and provokes consideration of buildings and purpose through the use of a number of analogies, from the relatively straight-forward A Cool Core Building to the more stretching and less obvious A Hobbit Hole.

We’re then into more practical matters – the choice of building materials and consideration of embodied energy, recycling and environmental impacts. Then insulation and the design of the building envelope. After a brief jaunt into the esoteric territory of ‘Building in Soul‘ we return once again to practical matters – ventilation, healthy house design (a favourite subject of mine) then the four key areas of heating, electricity, hot water and general water consumption.

The book finishes with a series of 24 insightful and statistic packed case studies from around the world.

Overall, this book is a pretty good read for the eco-builder. This isn’t one to sit and read cover-to-cover, more a reference source to dip into as information needs dictate or time allows. As reference book it has frustrations & flaws – due to their diverse sources, the diagrams & charts are not consistent in format, the writing style varies and sometimes the material lacks a theme or clarity of purpose – for example, the analogies introduced at the start of the book are a seemingly random selection. It is a pick and mix of eco and zero carbon / fossil fuel information and advice. A book that sensibly seeks to explore and encourage the establishment of a new eco building vernacular.

“By the middle of the century we will probably all have to live in zero fossil fuel homes. The seed of the ideas sown in this book by then will have grown into the New Vernacular of housing for the twenty-first century and beyond.”
(Towards the New Vernacular page 279)

Rather grandly, but well, said.

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A Pattern Language – Towns Buildings Construction

Category: Books October 16th, 2007 by mbc

Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein ~ 1977, Oxford University Press, New York.

In 1977, whilst in the UK the Sex Pistols where spreading a message of anarchy and being “Pretty Vacant”, in the USA Alexander, Ishikawa, Silverstein and co. were publishing three books that would enable us to bring order and thoughtful design to our homes, neighbourhoods, towns and cities. This, the second book in the series, is a working document for ‘a new traditional post-industrial architecture’.

The book takes the form of 253 patterns each pattern describes a problem that occurs in our built environment and then suggest ways to tackle that problem in a generic form, such that the application of the pattern to the problem will result in a unique and effective solution. The problems tackled range in scale, from number 1 the macro Independent Regions pattern that concerns itself with the size and nature of the largest autonomous congregations of people, through to pattern 253 things from your life a micro level pattern, that accentuates the need for the personalisation of our surroundings.

I can draw much from this book for my own project. The Secret Place pattern helps me to decide what to do in an awkward space between a bedroom and its en suite bathroom. The Six Foot Balcony pattern helps me plan a potential balcony and with reference to the pattern its usability should be ensured. Cooking Layout helps to derive the optimal kitchen design.

This is a pick-and-mix of a book, not all patterns will be of relevance to all projects, many are very high level, the first hundred or so are concerned with region, city, town & neighbourhood planning and so have minimal value to measly barn converters (although hopefully some relevance in planning shared spaces). Others betray the times in which they were written, Communal Sleeping, Dancing In The Street and Sleeping In Public evoking the more innocent, hopeful hippy-dippy 1970’s.

Having said that, despite its 30 year vintage, this book remains a thought provoking tome that is an essential reference resource for anyone designing or thinking of designing a building.

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Autumn 2013

Right that’s the summer over with, now I can get on with some real work without the distractions of other things (like holidays and playing with children, all that enjoyable stuff that gets in the way of progress)… With few major jobs (painting, boxing in – nasty stuff!) left inside, mainly fiddly things that need […]

I’m having a moan on twitter…

A lovely Flemish barn conversion

I love the interior of this conversion and the great use of horizontal slats on this conversion. I retains the essential ‘barnyness’ of the building… flemish-barn-by-arend-groenewegen-architect

Coming soon, my barn conversion guide… Interesting earthship greenhouse project on Kickstarter

I really like this Kickstarter project >> The Farm of the Future: Earthship-Inspired Greenhouse This project is “Prototyping the First 100% Off-The-Grid, Affordable, Low-Maintenance Greenhouse using Earthship Principles and Aquaponics“. If any of those words meaning anything to you you’ll be interested in the project if not, pass it by… It’s already funded so I […]


Barns Gallery on Remodelista

There is a lovely gallery of barn related inspirational photographs available on Remodelista.

Barns – the Long House

Situated on the North Norfolk coast, this is a building to admire…

Barns – the Balancing Barn

A stunning piece of architecture, although not entirely to my taste…

New fast-track planning permission for the development of barns proposed

The Daily Mail reports on a new fast-track route through planning controls for the conversion of barns…

De-assembled, re-assembled, re-cycled barns

“A bit like a private sector, modernising, repurposing St Fagan’s…”


What is a shadow gap?

A shadow gap – a mysterious dark place between two plains…

Your barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

Thoughts on making YOUR barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

Building Regulations, Approved Documents Part D – Toxic substances

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents Part D – Toxic substances

Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part C Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part C Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture

Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part B Fire safety

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part B Fire safety


Your barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

Thoughts on making YOUR barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

The Stirling prize 2012 winner – the Sainsbury Laboratory

The 2012 Stirling prize was won by a outsider, the Sainsbury Laboratory…

The Stirling prize 2012

I think that this years Stirling prize has some exciting projects on the shortlist…

Our engineers … our architects – Le Corbusier

The efficient, shiny world of construction in 1923…

Design in Storage

When designing a layout it’s easy to forget to plan for storage…


Green Deal slow beginnings?

Oh dear! The green deal hasn’t got off to a very auspicious start… As reported in the Telegraph today since it was launched nearly a year ago just 12 homes have taken advantage of the Green Deal with a few hundred more in the pipeline. 71,210 households had been assessed for Green Deal measures such […]

The property roller coaster – planning reform to be rethought

Eric Pickles vague compromise on planning reform keeps the house happy (for now).

Energy policy, smoke screens, fracking, confusion and big bucks

There seems to be only one thing that is certain in the world of energy policy and that is that costs will rise annually above and beyond anything that inflation can currently throw at us. Beyond that, smoke screens & confusion seem to reign. Take the recent news for example… It’s reported today that the […]

Flanking manoeuvres and good design…

It seems that the government are undertaking flanking manoeuvres on the green belt…

Green Deal Launch

The Green deal launched in the UK on Monday of this week. Fanfares? fireworks? a deluge of marketing? … read more …

Plaid Cymru’s Green New Deal promise

The leader of Plaid Cymru has promised a “Green New Deal” to rejuvenate the Welsh economy and help maintain Wales’ position at the forefront of Green policies.

Permitted development extension limits to be doubled

The government is due to announce a temporary increase in the maximum depth of extensions that can be built under permitted development rules.

Lloyd Khan, making shelter simple.

I wanted to share an interview with Lloyd Khan that I recently found…

Just what is ‘sustainable development’?

Sustainable development – with the term now enshrined in planning law, what does it mean?

Sir Patrick Abercrombie – “It is a matter for serious thought…”

While reading up on the response of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) I came across this quote from Sir Patrick Abercrombie…