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Journal of a silk-purse architect
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5th-Dec-2007 10:33 am - Round buildings, round roofs
One of the reasons I've been reluctant to draw round floorplans is the difficulty of roofing them.

But (said the prairie kid) what about grain bin roofs?

I've recently seen them used to good effect on strawbale buildings; the guys who built these houses had bin-style roofs engineered for residential applications. Lining with the right material produces sound-studio-quality acoustics and the lack of flat surfaces provides less wind resistance than a standard roof, which is useful in tornado-prone areas.

I am now reconsidering my bias. Houses that look like an agglomeration of towers could be a lot of fun... in my head, they look almost like a cluster of sharpened pencil crayons.

*goes off to find paper and pencils*
The U of M bookstore came through yesterday. I was looking through the Fine Arts section five minutes before closing and spotted a hardcover book on Hundertwasser for seventeen bucks. Cool, thought I, the graphic novels all look a bit shite, and this is cheaper and more interesting than anything I've seen over there. So I went up to the counter and was cheerfully informed that the book was on sale. Thirteen dollars and fifty cents later, I am now the proud owner of a hundred and ninety-seven pages of Hundertwasser, most of which I'd never seen.

So I've been thinking about Hunderwasser's statement that we as human beings have three skins: our skins, our clothes, and the buildings we inhabit. I remember joking once that I'm so maladjusted that I draw floorplans for my friends to demonstrate my affection instead of hugging them.Read more...Collapse )

Feel free to add observations, as all this may qualify me as A) insane or B) possessed of too much spare time altogether. Besides, it feels weird to be talking into a void where you know people are watching/listening and never hear anything except your own echo.
Thoughts are mostly on organic shapes & so on. How to make a house feel inviting- what works for me, what works for other people.Read more...Collapse )
24th-Aug-2006 07:14 pm - Community
So the scoop with my building plans is this: I have lots of friends who are interested in sustainability, permaculture, greeen building methods, organic farming, etc. One of these friends in particular is quite serious about this; she's currently doing an internship on a farm in southern Ontario and wants to come back here to farm next summer.

We've talked about this idea ever since we met each other, how we want to farm and build and live close to other people who think sort of like we do. She's going to try to get enough land that a few people could live there, each in their own small house. And she's said that I could live there if I wanted, that I could build my house there in trade for drawing up the plans for hers. (I'm aware that I'm getting a hell of a deal here: land for my house and the chance to work on a farm in exchange for doing something I love for someone I love.)

The other day I had this mental image pop into my head: Christmas Eve in a house I've built myself, with a fire in the stove, good food to be had and mugs of homemade cider everywhere. The snow's deep, but the livestock's been fed and watered for the night. My friends are there, with our cats begging for treats and colonizing laps. We're all playing Tikal and listening to Alan Maitland read The Shepherd on CBC Radio. I think I'm nostalgic for the future, if that's possible.
24th-Aug-2006 08:58 am - Little Houses
The floorplan I drew yesterday is about 150 square feet on the main floor, with a loft about half that. It'll probably get a bit bigger, or at least be redesigned so that an addition would be easy to build later on.

I showed it to my dad when he was in yesterday, and he mentioned that his neighbour's garage, which is larger, wasn't built with salvaged materials (and has cedar shingle siding!) cost fifteen thousand. If I build with salvage and bales, I could probably make my little house for about that, possibly even less.

There's something really satisfying about the challenge of fitting everything you need into a small space, sort of like planning a boat or a caravan. So far I think it's a sweet, tidy drawing, and there's even a spiral staircase! I'm off to do some more sketching.
21st-Aug-2006 10:43 am - a thought on factory farms:
"Once plants and animals were raised together on the same farm - which therefore neither produced unmanageable surpluses of manure, to be wasted and to pollute the water supply, nor depended on such quantities of commercial fertilizer. The genius of American farm experts is very well demonstrated here: they can take a solution and divide it neatly into two problems."

-Wendell Berry

This has prompted me to think I should perhaps start reading Mr. Berry's work. The only exposure to his writing I've had so far is a clearly remembered line from a half-remembered poem about learning to plow with a team.
20th-Aug-2006 05:58 pm(no subject)
I've got them.

Twenty linear feet of six-by-six fir.

Dragged them home myself with a towing strap made from an old belt.

Other things to be salvaged from the site include a tall narrow window and a stack of 1" plywood.

I've already gotten almost enough 1/2" plywood to put subflooring in the kitchen.

I feel accomplished.

In related news, I would love to have a scavenging partner just as driven as I am. And possibly a pickup truck. The world would be my oyster.
While I was working as a house painter, I had the misfortune to get a few jobs in the twitchy-making zone known as suburbia. These places always bothered me; I'd get uncomfortable as soon as I entered the area and I'd never really settle down until the job was done and I could spend a few days recharging my batteries in a more pleasant part of town. Having spent a large chunk of this afternoon ensconced in Alexander's Pattern Language and much of last week in Snell and Callahan's Building Green, I'm going to try articulating what bothers me about so much of modern housing design.In which I ramble a bit before arriving at a revelation of sorts.Collapse )
19th-Aug-2006 01:23 pm(no subject)
I'll cheerfully admit to profiting from the throwaway mentality that seems to be a feature of most building sites. I've scavenged plywood, windows, doors and various dimensions of lumber shamelessly. Perhaps it's my cheapskate Mennonite heritage showing through? At any rate, salvage expeditions are the first step in a successful silk-purse architecture project. Build up a large enough stockpile of second-hand materials and you can do almost anything.

At the same time, this cavalier attitude makes me incredibly angry. The amount of energy that goes into making dimensional lumber (never mind plywood) is considerable, and so much gets thrown out afterwards. What was the point of all that time and effort just to have half of the stuff end up in a landfill? Bastards.

One thing I've been thinking about a lot lately is land and how we use it, even how we talk about it. We don't inherit a place from our parents; we are borrowing it from our children, our nieces and nephews, whoever will take care of it after we're not there anymore... and those people are only borrowing it from the ones who come after them, and so on down the line. Walk lightly- this land has to last a long time, and it's not a limitless thing.

When I was somewhat younger, I was mentored by an older builder who talked a lot about how it is our responsibility as good citizens of the planet to look after it, to buy our clothing second-hand and go skipdiving and live on other peoples' leftovers as much as possible. As a Mennonite, he saw it as nothing short of a religious duty. I'll admit to seeing it in much the same light. Hauling someone else's garbage home and reusing it is more important to me right now than sitting in church on Sunday.

Maybe this is because I've seen that there is no place for me in the religious tradition that raised me. I have to find my own sense of the divine somewhere, and if it's in finding treasure in other peoples' trash, so be it.

It's kinda like being a magpie, but it's not just the shiny things that catch my roving eyes.

Heh, enough philosophy. I need to get out there and find some more 1/2" plywood. And after that, I have to pick up a copy of Pattern Language at the library.
13th-Aug-2006 11:49 am - Question: cob and bales
Testing... testing... First post in this sucker. Always feels weird, starting a new journal.


How possible is it to incorporate cob into a strawbale structure? I'm thinking a building with exterior walls made of bales and interior walls made of cob. You'd have to tie it together pretty solidly with wooden stakes or rebar or something sticking out of the bales. Would you have to key it in like you do with a cob-cob join? How would you negotiate finishes? Could you earth-plaster the whole interior? And then go over it with alis or something...

I expect to have a whole list of question posts within the next while. And then I'll spend the next eighty years of my life finding the answers.
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