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Permaculture in the design of buildings

green roof Permaculture

green roof Permaculture

Much attention in Permaculture is directed to growing things and planning sustainable land-use. I invite you to think for a moment about Zone 0: the home. How can we apply Permaculture thinking here?

My passion for a long time has been with the design and building of houses and work-spaces that are friendly to the occupants as well as the environment. I call it “Building as if people mattered”.

sketch for a family home

What do I mean by that?

Here are 7 main qualities I hope to achieve with my designs:

  1. Connected to surroundings = fits into a Permaculture design of the land which includes looking at weather patterns, neighbors (human and animal) and other activities on the land. I look for the best possible relationship between all these factors, which results in ease of use and natural benefits like cooling or warming.
  2. Well fitting = enough room for the purpose or the activities that will happen inside. I think about getting the most use out of least amount of space while making it easy to operate inside. Designing with “what will you do in this space”.
  3. Planned for expansion = I encourage my clients to start by building something affordable, and in the planning include possibilities for future expansion. For example: build openings into walls that may become doors, think ahead when designing a roofline.
  4. Healthy for people and planet = I choose non-toxic materials, locally harvested or produced as one part of this. Another aspect is plenty of natural light, fresh air and beauty for the soul. Systems should consist of complete cycles, where whatever comes in will be treated in such a way that it will return to Mother Earth without causing harm after we’re done using it. This applies especially to water, but also to construction materials.
  5. Maintenance friendly = Let’s build it so that repair is easy: good access to shut-off points for water, gas and electricity. Invest in durable infrastructure (good pipes, wiring). I also teach people how to do basic maintenance and repair, on earthen walls and plasters for example.
  6. Materials put to their highest use = consider strength and structural needs when choosing what to build with. Cement and concrete are high strength and often overused in applications. I look for smart ways of reducing these high impact materials like vaults and using materials like stone and earth.
  7. Beauty = put love into the building by adding personal touches. I involve people in the process of building and invite their creativity. The energy we put in will radiate out.
personal touch interior

Touched by human hands: this interior is custom fit in all aspects.

Developing a sustainable lifestyle is easy when houses are planned to support us. Becoming part of natural patterns, paying attention to inputs and outputs can be facilitated by design.

In the end our experience is enriched and we feel more connected to Nature.

attached greenhouse with lots of daylight

Sunrooms feel like being outside and give extra living space in shoulder seasons

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Presenting Amarula cob cottage

Amarula cob cottage north west

Today I am pleased to share some pictures with you. We have finished our building in Mnenia and it is ready to be occupied. I found it difficult to take adequate pictures: the house is small but feels spacious. Photographs can’t give you the feeling of the light breeze, the sound of the birds, or the cool inside on a hot day. We very much enjoyed staying in the house and hope to return.

In the beginning of the project we set out to build with mostly local materials. I can now say that the stones, sand, clay, bricks and sticks all came from within 1 km of the building site. We hired people to make door and windows in Kondoa, the closest town. Cement and Lime were produced in Tanzania, near Moshi. The many hands that helped were also mostly from the village, except our dome ‘fundi’ Petro Omala, Goodluck Omala, and a few short term volunteers.

Have a look and let me know your thoughts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Housesitting

Lately it seems that most of my time is spent at the computer: planning, writing, communicating, sketching, and even some entertainment courtesy of youtube and TED.
So when we took on a house-sit near Duncan the one main concern was: can I get online?
We’ve been here for a few days now and I am getting used to the sounds of the house, the vistas and the abundance of space. I notice that I move from kitchen to upstairs office to kitchen to bathroom to office to kitchen etc.- and I don’t spend much time in the other areas of the house.

Here’s an exercise I do with participants of my workshops: Draw a plan of your house and trace with a pencil your daily movements. You will notice which places are always visited and which only rarely. Some never get used! Try this for your place and let me know what you discover.

Of course, coming from a 300 squarefoot living space into this ? squarefoot home is triggering all sorts thoughts.
So far I really like:

  • This house is facing the sun!!!! (Sadly this is worth mentioning)
  • The kitchen cabinet hardware that prevents doors and drawers from slamming shut- it slows them down to a gentle stop.
  • The spacious shower- no elbow bumping!
  • Watching all the birds both at the bird feeder and farther away in the wetland by Quamichan Lake
  • Lots of uninterrupted work time (but that’s really not a design feature of this place just  opportunity and intention)
  • Reading some Wendell Berry (ditto)

So while this Sunday is rather stormy outside I will now return to other pages on my computer…..

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6 design tips for good daylight

 

window at Permalot

Window at Permalot

Daylight comes slowly, and when it rains even more so it seems. The alcove we sleep in is on the east side of the building and has two windows allowing the first morning light to enter my sleep. In the summertime the morning sun tickles our faces, the winter sun never comes over the trees to touch the morningside of the studio.

Arched cob frames kitchen windows

I get up and move into the kitchen where the skylights light up the living space. I hear the rain drumming on the glass. If all windows were gone here the place would be perfectly lit up- if the skylights disappeared it would be dark in here. Daylight (and moonlight!) comes from the sky and if we can’t see the sky through the windows because of vegetation of other structures we don’t have natural light coming in.

window in my sleeping alcove

If not for light, what are windows for? They are the eyes to the world around us: we like to see if there are clouds rolling in, like to know when visitors approach. Working near a window allows us to watch over the children playing outside. I like to be connected to others in the neighborhood just by seeing them out and about. Windows also become the beacon to go to: think of a dark night when you see the lit up windows of a house. They allow a sneak preview of the space you enter: especially in stores. A town is more interesting to walk through when stores show window displays and people sit in window niches of cafes and restaurants.

light from skylights

skylights light up the sanctuary hall

 

When trying to plan an energy conservative house we want to be careful with window placement and sizing. Here are a few tips:

  1. Know the site: understand and observe the sunpath and design the building accordingly for optimum daylighting
  2. Be selective and intentional about size: a window doesn’t need to be large to give view. A window that is close to the eye is like a lense. Try holding a small frame in front of you and notice the difference of area you can see by changing the distance to your eye.
  3. Learn about the different types of glazing
  4. Use Solar tubes for daylight in deeper spaces
  5. There’s not much to see low to the floor: unless you specifically receive solar gain on your floor (thermal mass floor) lift the glass area up!
  6. Light colors on the walls that are facing windows and on window reveals reflect light into your space.
  7. Light from two sides: better two small windows on different walls than one large one; this avoids glare and brings life
  8. If you’re down because the winter days are too short….go outside everyday during daylight hours. Even a few minutes make a difference.

See you out there!

eye to the world outside