The Natural House – a Presentation from the Prince of Wales’ Foundation

This is Sue Houseago’s report on the talk given to Stroud Civic Society on January 19th 2012…

How to build a beautiful, eco-friendly house that is also a low carbon home and sustainable too.
As the Old Town Hall in Stroud filled with heavily be-coated and be-hatted people last Thursday; it was clear that it would take a bright star to light this dark night. However, even as Bettina Balwah set up ‘shop’, all the while talking, laughing and enthusing about her subject, it was clear she was to be that star!

We quickly learned that Bettina had been with the Prince’s Foundation for five years and it had taken her two and a half years to arrange an exhibition of the ‘Prince’s House’. She stressed with smiles that she and her colleagues all have different views on architecture, and that they are by no means ‘mouthpieces for HRH!’ Their prime interest being sustainability, managing research and professional education. They had 7 to 14 students at the Foundation every year, and her team is there to help with the design of low impact, long life buildings and with reducing the carbon footprint.

The Natural HouseUse of Natural Materials
A slide showing a street of the Prince’s paired, flexible houses all adaptable to single or family dwellings, with potential to convert to shops at ground floor level, and – by removing banisters and doors – easily ready for disabled owners, drew nods of approval. These houses, all created out of natural fabrics, clay blocks and lime rendering, are built to form a thermal envelope with sheet and metal conductors to take heat out and chimneystacks to control air coming in. In a shiny-eyed aside, Bettina added that she knows examples of eco friendly housing using more carbon than traditional housing! Laughing delightedly, Bettina shone as she explained that it took only one day’s training for a group of builders to convert from bricks to blocks. With dramatic sweeps of her arm, she showed how easy she had found it to lay clay blocks herself. We believed her!

The Foundation’s design of tightly built terraced housing costs less, but above all, Bettina added, it aims to produce houses that people love. It is undoubtedly the human aspect of these natural houses with their glorious Welsh wood floors and doors, balconies and big widows that delight, and although added insulation means lost space, the tall ceilings, we learnt, mean air is constantly changing.

Questions inevitably led us to more hidden truths, and even Bettina’s strong voice wavered as she admitted that to buy the Prince’s house (‘but it is North London !’) might cost quite a bit. We learnt, that as yet floors, doors and clay blocks are all sourced from Germany, but she did stress that there is already one factory here producing these clay blocks and another is due to follow. Only next week, she added, she will be at a meeting where she hopes to persuade a builder to replace the bricks in his next housing project with clay blocks.

As she finished her talk, we applauded enthusiastically, not only, I suspect, for Bettina’s lively, provoking talk, but also for the Princes’ Foundation with its teams of Bettina’s and James’s, who are all out there challenging the all too often ‘banker’s’ mindset of building houses in rows of centipede’s feet. Their cry – ‘Start building beautiful eco friendly homes, designed to last a lifetime, in tight communities where people feel happy, and secure.

I think most of us felt hopeful as we left Stroud Town Hall.

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