Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Turf war

"I don't advocate everyone trying to live like us in roundhouses, but I can see a future in which those people who live in self built ecohomes in ecovillages or ecologically balanced (earthright) towns will have a much higher quality of life."

Tony Wrench, unpublished extract,
from an interview with me, 2 September 2004.

To the Photographer’s Gallery last night for mulled wine and David Spero’s "Settlements" (until 5 February 2006). And blimey, there’s some snaps of Tony Wrench's roundhouse, which I interviewed him about just over a year ago. Pembrokeshire Council are still threatening to pull down the place, which has low-to-no impact on it surroundings, and which they only discovered in the first place by accident.

Spero’s recorded quite a variety of similarly "invisible" self-built homes, and I preferred the more cottage-like ones to the scruffier, ramshackle sort, surrounded by shambles and spare building materials. The cottages looked homely and secure, while the rougher structures looked fleeting and unsafe. But then I’m a city boy. (The Dr will probably be laughing at this last bit.)

There’s an odd correlation between these buildings and KSR’s Fifty Degrees Below, which – yes – I’m still working my way through (page 400 today, but my train journeys are stuffed with work). Among all the ideas dashed through the book, there’s Frank’s longing for a more natural, savannah-style living, playing with hand-axes and shagging in his treehouse.

(The book (and possibly the trilogy) is about practical and scientific solutions to abrupt climate change, and therefore of rethinking assumed models for living. From the author of the Mars trilogy, a book about terraforming the Earth.)

What both the book and these snaps show is a mixing of some bliss, "Golden Age" (and so never-existent) pre-urban way with modern practicality. Frank's "natural" living includes modern fabrics to keep the cold out, and a remote garage-door opener to work the ladder to his house. Likewise, the settlements in Brithdir Mawr use recycled double-glazing and tarpaulins.

The point of my article – what I hoped made it different – was that it wasn’t about unusual houses as homes, things people actually lived in. (See "Bricks and mortar – paper, stone, steel and wood: how we choose to live" in Lexus magazine Quarter 1 2005, pp. 38-41)

What became evident was that these alternatives (and I also covered curvilinear and recycled-log dwellings) was the need to share land. These communities are all based on shared access, mutuality. Which is about as unBritish as you get.

So Brown stepping in the way of yet more buy-to-letting is good news. And yes, I’m aware of the irony of just having bought my own home. And one that leaks heat every whichway. We’re working on that.
"At least insulate your loft, for God's sake. The thing is to imagine a world that works sustainably, and work back to seeing your part in it. There isn't any choice, in the long term, but to live sustainably, so why mess about?"


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