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Post by logsplitter Sun 11 Apr 2010, 06:23

The Hobbit House: A quiet revolution

Simon Dale

Simon Dale spent just three months building his woodland home in Wales. Clare Dwyer Hogg reports

Simon Dale resisted the description of the round house he and his family built as a ‘hobbit home’ for as long as he could, but it was futile. “I’ve finally given into it,” he laughs. It’s not hard to see why: built into the Welsh woodland, with a turf roof that blends the house into its forest environment, what else would you call it? But it’s not just about aesthetics. “There’s some relevance in what hobbits were representative of for Tolkien,” Dale says.

“I’m no literary expert, but they seem to be a representation of humans living in a sustainable sort of way. I’m happy with that.”

While Dale claims not to be an expert in literature, he also claims to be no expert in building or architecture – which is surprising given that he’s built two family homes, and is planning more. But then, Dale’s story is surprising. A photographer and graphic designer by trade, he knew from his teens that he wanted to build a home in the countryside. “Photography and graphic design were ways of getting a livelihood that were portable, and helpful for the move to the country,” he says. Building a country retreat was not, however, the stuff of hundreds of thousands of pounds, years of work and according to the strictures of some fashionable design code. It certainly wasn’t the conventional process we’re familiar with seeing on our television screens – but it sounds like it would have made good viewing. In three months, and for no more than £3,000, Simon Dale, his wife Jasmine, and his father-in-law (with a baby and toddler in tow) constructed a cosy, ecologically sound, home in the woods. They did it themselves, relying on serendipity and the generosity of others. They weren’t disappointed.

For a start, the owner of the woods they were building in was keen to have someone living there, taking care of the forest, so they didn’t have to pay for the land they were building on. Next, crucially, the stewardship of the woodland involved some long overdue thinning of the trees. And the type of wood that needed to be thinned couldn’t be sold for anything other than firewood. “It usually requires a subsidy to get it out,” Dale says. “People are paid to remove it because it’s part of an old woodland management plan that doesn’t have a place in modern commercial production.” It was, however, ideal for the woodland home that Dale was building, not least because it was pliable. “It gave us fantastic building opportunities, as well as creative ones because it made such interesting shapes,” he enthuses.hobbit home

The timber frame went up first, then the roof, so that they could be sheltered while doing the rest of the work. The roof has a layer of straw bales for insulation, plastic over that to render it waterproof, and earth on top. “A turf roof is a really simple way of making a roof,” says Dale. “It’s low-tech, cheap, and it’s got minimal visual impact. Straw bales for insulation may sound a little worrying for urbanites, for whom straw sounds like something rather flammable. Not a bit of it, Dale says. It was used not only for the roof, but in the round wall that made up the building. “Trying to burn it is like burning sand when there’s no air in it – and once it’s covered in an inch of lime or earth, it’s rendered completely fireproof, and will pass any tests,” he explains. The round design wasn’t just for looks: it makes structural sense to build like this – practically, it’s a stable shape, and the minimum amount of wall means little heat loss.

Straw was one of the main expenses: many other materials came for free. “We went to lots of skips,” Dale laughs, “but also people gave us things. Nearby there were power pylons being refitted, and the timber packing crates for the components would have been burnt – we used them as floorboards.” There was also the big row of windows someone had removed from their home to have them replaced with plastic versions – Dale was the willing recipient of these unwanted luxuries.

“I think because everything wasn’t decided in advance, we were able to incorporate whatever happened as we went along,”

Dale says. “We weren’t tied to a hard and fast plan at the beginning, or using materials like cement which you’re then stuck with.”

Inside, the design follows the same philosophy as the exterior – eclectic sources are favoured. “I enjoy diversity and handmade things,” Dale says, and you’d be hard pressed to discover anything from Ikea. Most of the furniture is either handmade by Dale or his friends, or second hand. “Everything is functional primarily, and then aesthetic within the limits of what is functional as well as expedient,” he says. This fits with Simon and Jasmine’s philosophy of living simply, which ties in with the belief that living off the land is an important step in the current times of climate change and faltering resources. And they don’t intend to sit still: their next project – to build nine similar homes in a settlement in Pembrokeshire – is well under way.

hobbit homeNine families are ready to move in and try living off the land, going back to a way of life before fossil fuels – but with the modern knowledge of ecology. “What was initially for me a love of the countryside has turned into a complex understanding of how we relate to the land,” Dale says. It’s a quiet revolution: we probably haven’t heard the last of this family.


[Via Independant.co.uk]


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Post by logsplitter Sun 11 Apr 2010, 06:29

Lost middle-class tribe’s ’secret’ eco-village in Wales spotted in aerial photograph taken by plane

For five happy years they enjoyed simple lives in their straw and mud huts.

Generating their own power and growing their own food, they strived for self-sufficiency and thrived in homes that looked more suited to the hobbits from The Lord of the Rings.

Then a survey plane chanced upon the ‘lost tribe’… and they were plunged into a decade-long battle with officialdom.

Eco Village

Pioneering: Eco-dweller Emma Orbach is delighted planning has been approved.

Yesterday that fight, backed by more modern support for green issues, ended in victory.

The eco-community in the Preseli mountains of west Wales was set up in 1993 and lived contentedly away from the rat race round a 180-acre farm bought by Julian and Emma Orbach.

In 1998, it was spotted when sunlight was seen glinting off a solar panel on the main building, which was built from straw bales, timber and recycled glass.

When the pilot reported back, officials were unable to find any records, let alone planning permission, for the mystery hillside village surrounded by trees and bushes.

Eco Village 2

Brainchild: Architectural historian Julian Orbach came up with the idea.

They insisted the grass-covered buildings should be demolished.

The eco-community endured a decade of inquiries, court cases and planning hearings.

The 22 villagers fought planners even when they were within hours of the bulldozers moving in to demolish their eight homes.

Now, however, they can celebrate, thanks to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s ’sustainability’ policy.

With green issues now getting a more sympathetic hearing, the commune has been given planning approval for its roundhouses along with lavatories, agricultural buildings and workshops.

Community founder Emma Orbach, a 52-year-old mother of three, said yesterday: ‘We are really excited and happy as it has been a very long battle.

‘Even when planning inquiries and court hearings went against us we were determined to fight on.

“The villagers are pioneering a new lifestyle and are determined to prove it’s possible for people to live more simply.”

Tony Wrench, 62, who lives in the original roundhouse with his partner Jane, said: ‘We are very relieved and delighted.

‘We have been able to prove to the planners that it is possible to have a sustainable and low-impact community in the countryside.

Lost Eco Village

Green: The houses use only solar power and get light from a roof window.

“We had to prove we were improving the biodiversity of the area and conserving the woodland and we did that. It’s great that our efforts to build a community using renewable resources have now been supported by the planners.

The planners have worked miracles in making a new policy which enables communities which are self sufficient to exist.”

Amid the celebrations over the victory, however, it seems that life away from the rat race has not run entirely smoothly for the pioneers of simple living.

The two founders, architectural historian Julian Orbach, 55, and his wife Emma are divorced, and the commune has been split into three entities.

Aerial View of Eco Village

Caught out: An aerial view of eco village Brithdir Mawr. The complex could not be seen from the road.

The original 180-acre farm was divided up into the area around the farm, a section around the original roundhouse known as Tir Ysbrydol (Spirit Land) where Mrs Orbach lives, and 80 acres of pasture and woodland run by a community known as Brithdir Mawr.

Each community is independent and they co-exist as neighbours in a more traditional style.

Brithdir Mawr continues to support sustainable living based around the original farmhouse, with eight adults and four children sharing communal meals, looking after goats, horses and chickens – and also holding down part-time jobs to raise the £200 per month rent they each pay Mr Orbach, who lives in a house in nearby Newport.

The current residents now run businesses such as courses in furniture making and sustainable living for around £95 a head.

On their website they explain:

“We are eight big people and four little ones who choose to live here: working, eating, meeting and laughing together. Being a community is a large part of what we do. To sum up the rest; we are striving towards a life in which our footprints are as light as they can be.”

One resident, Ben Gabel, 38, who runs a seed business with his partner Kate, said: ‘It is completely different to what it was. Most people would consider the set-up quite normal.

“The kids watch DVDs and we run a business from the farm.”

[Via Dailymail.co.uk]


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