Wednesday, 18 June 2014


At the University of Lincoln on 26 February 2014

Attended by students of architecture, guests, members of Greenpeace and the Abundant Earth Community, and EMESS members.

On behalf of the School of Architecture, Marcin Kolakowski welcomed everyone.  He mentioned that 15 student projects were on the subject of sustainable architecture - but what was this subject really ?  It was not about CO2 emissions or U-values, but about low technology and going more widely and more slowly, rather than narrowly and quickly.  There is a crisis of meaning, of consumerism, etc in modern times.

The Abundant Earth Community is trying to improve physical, mental and economic health.  They are an intentional community which might take the form of a workers' co-operative or a housing co-operative.  In practice they would work off the grid to produce food through many collaborators, and they have become a client figure for an architecture project.  See them at :

Mamoud was the first student speaker on natural materials, taking the subject of light clay in a mixture of 1:1 of clay:straw.  It would be laid between shutters, and within timber studs.  The shutters could be removed after two hours, and the wall could be plastered after further drying of two weeks.  The mass was in the range of 600 - 800 kg/m3.  Blocks could be made with the same mixture; and the proportions of the mixture could be varied to improve the standard of thermal insulation.

Adam then spoke on the subject of rammed earth, which would be clay with sand or gravel, without any straw, and so could have a relatively high thermal mass.  The technique is being used in contemporary building, especially in hot countries, where it has the benefit of providing coolth.  Although it is an ancient technique, it has been used at the Eden Centre in Cornwall, at CAT in Wales, in the Chapel of Reconciliation, Berlin, etc.

Jack talked about super adobe bags of earth or any other as-found material..  They could be long or short for bonding in walls; they can be used to form curved walls and domes; and they could have civil engineering uses.  The mortar can be barbed wire and then the surfaces can be rendered.  Walls have some flexibility and so the technique can be resistant to earthquakes and hurricanes. 

Kieran had Walter Segal self-built housing as his subject.  In 1963 Segal built a house in his garden using only standard-sized materials.  In the 1970's Lewisham Council provided four (awkward) sites for self-builders to develop, using timber frames, light-weight panels, paving slabs for foundations, etc.  The principles of co-operative working, self-help, and self-reliance were all in evidence.

Surnan spoke about a possible eco-village on the site of Liquorice Park on Yarborough Road in Lincoln.  30 possible site plans had been merged into one, with a large circular green towards the north-west, buildings containing houses and workshops towards the south-east, and a shop and nursery at the southern tip.  Re-used materials would form the construction.

Emily talked on the subject of vernacular architecture as an answer to the GB housing crisis.  There are 1.7 million people on the social housing list; modern houses are very small; and people have mortgage problems.  Tall housing blocks have been shown not to be the answer to the housing slums which they replaced. There are many types of traditional buildings in the UK which were built by the people for the people, such as the timber-framed Wealden houses, cottages, etc; and these were also set in traditional patterns of settlement.  Whilst there is the modern technical problem of the Code for Sustainable Homes, it should be possible to revive the traditional construction of cob in all its forms, and timber-frame such as Segal self-build.

Diane had the subject of the Code for Sustainable Homes, where level 5 has the target of zero CO2.  This is economically too expensive to build using insulated panels.  Mechanical ventilation is required, but this is difficult to manage.  In the monitored houses, energy consumption was low to start with, but increased over time.  Photo-voltaics were easy to install, and were successful.  Rainwater harvesting was successful, but loud in use (as the houses were otherwise quiet inside).

From the university estates office, Jane said that the students would be able to build on the campus using low technologies, following the success of pop-up temporary structures in London, at the AA and the Serpentine Gallery.  The estates department would work with the students to find suitable sites and functions.

For EMESS, Rodney mentioned that he and Marcin had been to the EBUK meeting the previous week in Norfolk, which had been fascinating.  He gave a brief history of EMESS, starting with the removal of the mud-and-stud cottage from the village of Withern to the museum in Skegness now called The Village.  It was found that the cottage had been pre-fabricated and so it was relatively easy to take it apart, move it, and re-erect it.  He mentioned that the next international meeting on earthen construction would be in Lyon, France in 2016.  Finally he mentioned that although EMESS is a traditional society which has dealt with historic building, the members see earth as a modern material.

In the following discussion, James referred to a coming-together of interests at this time, namely, ecological principles, natural materials, the commitment of people, etc.

Trevor suggested setting up demonstration workshops at the university, in a location such as beneath the bridge or in any temporary storage units.

The AEC is looking for any possible sites which could become the focal points of their proposals,  They could be in the city or in the county.  They have 100 people interested in their project.

The time, date, and location of the next EMESS meeting will be notified in due course.

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