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

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Grains of sand Print E-mail

ImageSand is a wonderful building material. It only takes a minute or two to dig a hole and sink luxuriously into it. A few more quick movements and it is a perfect fit, supporting every part of my rather magnificent body. (When you are a mayoral candidate you need to think a little about your image.)



If I get cold it is so simple to extend my house, making it a little deeper. If I get too hot the house only needs a little infilling to lift me up to the fresh breezes. The sand retains my body heat so that energy efficiency is something I take for granted. I only heat the exact amount of space I need, and the sand returns back to me the warmth I give.

Tomorrow when I come out from the back porch to lie on the beach I will be able to pick a new spot for my lifestyle home, without needing to give a thought to yesterday's most appropriate spot.

The many children who love to come along the beach to give me a scratch understand the dynamic nature of sand. They build a sand-castle, experiment, change it, sometimes get a little too ambitious, and finally get their dreams right. They learn a lot about life and themselves, without hurting the environment or anyone else.

They have the satisfaction of knowing they will be gone before the building inspector arrives. When he does stamp their creation into the ground they are the winners because he is only leaving the sand ready for another building project tomorrow.

I have never understood why human beings mix sand with cement. Why do they insist on freezing everything?

The dynamic old medieval villages of Europe can be seen as assemblages made from grains of sand. Their urban fabric is able to change continuously rather like a beach. Sadly our planners visit but do not see. They return home only to pass rules and regulations which bring life to a standstill.

"Sustainability" has now become little more than another reincarnation of the ancient search for immortality. Once food and effigies were placed in tombs. Today we have pinned our hope of never dying on planning schemes and maintenance free houses.

In the nineties the fear of dying has become a fear of living. Those who recognise the money to be made from trading in fear, buy and sell "real estate", turning our houses and our cities into tombs. Planners and building inspectors forget the words of John Henry Newman. "Fear not that life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning."

We owner-builders are the only ones who really understand sustainability. We know that houses are a process not a product. We know that we belong to our houses rather more than they belong to us. In a truly sustainable world there are no ends, only beginnings.

Which reminds me. I must wander up to the back porch where it looks as though lunch is over. The end of feasting for humans is but the beginning of feasting for me. Some surplus each day is the sustainable way, we philosophers say. It is written in the sand.

by Piglet


This article was first published in The Owner Builder magazine. 

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