Urban Designer - Vernacular Architect - Maritime Planner - Owner-Builder - Servant of Piglet - Educator - Author - Revolutionary - Peacenik - Tour Guide 

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

The Human House - Houses are for the birds Print E-mail
ImageBuilding a house yourself changes the way in which you see the world. As any building changes and grows there is an opportunity for everyone associated with it to also change and grow.

This opportunity will be lost if the building project is only seen as a result of growth and not as a cause of growth.

Take "Charlie" for example. Charlie was flying past this site one day and observed that the builder, who was digging foundations, was also digging up an assortment of grubs and worms.

Charlie was perceptive enough to know that the conservation and wise use of the world’s resources demands that by-products should always be used to advantage and that human activity should never be permitted to generate rubbish.

Charlie was also intelligent enough to see the advantages of an intermediate technology, such as a spade, which is able to dig foundations without destroying the trees a bird needs.

Charlie decided to stay.

The bent sheet of corrugated iron became Charlie’s bath. During the long months of wet weather it always held a pond of water, so Charlie more or less looked after himself.

Then the dry weather came and the bath dried up. Charlie came and sat on the doorstep, mouth open and head drooped. It would have been possible simply to chase Charlie away.

He would have just disappeared, like so many other people in our society who do not fit the conventional image and are forced to retreat into a world of their own.

Instead, the builder fetched a bucket and filled up the pond. Once again the world was filled with song and laughter and the happy splashing of water.

Looking after Charlie became an extra to the contract. A sort of variation order, under “Preliminary and General”. The sort of variation order which could cause grumbling about delays in the completion of the contract, or about the loss of money involved.

Charlie had no means to pay, so he really had no right to belong in the tough, competitive world of building.

Then the time came to shift the sheet of iron and clean up the site. By now Charlie and Emma had built a nest of their own. Just from left-overs around the site, and they did it themselves.

Nevertheless, it was a very, very beautiful nest, one well suited to bringing up a family born to be free.

Because Charlie does not use money he cannot understand why New Zealanders keep talking about a housing problem instead of just getting on with the job.

The sheet of iron has been left. Without Charlie the site would be a little cleaner , but the world would be a little poorer. There would be no cheerful song in the morning. No bird waiting to come inside to shelter from the rain. No bird lying in the sun on the hot tile roof.

Charlie has become part of the building.

It is easy to destroy the frail and weak, but often they are the people who make love present in the world. Perfection is often revealed through imperfection.

Soon enough someone will decide it is illegal to have a bird bath outside. Particularly when it is not connected to the drainage system.

Charlie is a problem for the system. He is not like the other mediocre middle class birds, who sit preening themselves all day, telling themselves how beautiful they are. Charlie is scruffy. Perhaps if Charlie was made that way he has a right to exist.

If you take the risk of being alive your life will no longer be neat and tidy.

To the blue rinse ladies of the local bridge club Charlie is just a drop-out. Instead of seeking to feather his own nest he goes out and sings for the joy of the community. He will never leave a sterile nest egg behind but will be remembered with love because he has brought life to others. Any person who is not selfish seems to be an odd bird.

Birds like Charlie will always be in trouble, because they do not fit. Nevertheless, it is often through birds like Charlie that love becomes present in the world. Perhaps the real purpose of a house is also to make love present in the world.

No one can tell anyone else what a life or a house is really for. You must discover that for yourself along the way.
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