Category Archives: Inspiration

A High Five from across the Globe

Tash PlantingSWhen I speak of my engagement with the universe – I do it largely tongue-in-cheek, but this project has thrown up the most extraordinary coincidences that engage me on a spiritual level, dare I say it.

I was feeling somewhat rudderless a couple of weeks ago, while waiting for the universe to provide some suitable material for our shed, which we are trying to build out of waste. I do not do waiting well and this definitely unsettled me. As a misguided response I headed to the internet to a site I find fascinating called Fiverr®. which describes itself as “The place for people to share things they’re willing to do for $5.”

I have used this online service once before to edit the sound quality on a video I made for my blog. It was a simple and hassle free service for which I would happily have paid a local teenage techie €20. This time I searched for what was available by way of architectural services  and came across all manner of people from far flung places in the world, offering CAD drawings or model-making or architectural renderings for as little as €5. When I happened upon a “gig” http://www.fiverr.com/sylversurfer/inspire-your-architecture-and-urban-design-through-critique  I thought “Yeah why not?”

I wrote to the person offering this service and asked him to read the blog and put a frame on it. I told him about my big wish to design a low cost housing solution which could have beneficial implications beyond my own project. I sent €5 into the ether…

and seven days later I received the following e-mail

Humble thoughts on the Community Extension Initiative
Dear Natasha,
Firstly, what a great collective effort. I think one of the wonderful things I am taking away from your blog and photos is the collaborative and warm community effort that has emerged from the self-imposed frugality of the initiative. I have advised recently the rebuilding efforts in Tacloban Philippines, after the devastation of Typhoon Hainan. The great takeaway for me was not so much in the technology or logistics of reproving homes and shelter; every community will find a way with its budgets, skills, and local materials. Instead I learned that every community needs first and foremost to focus on jobs and livelihoods.

It reminds me of the experience in Chile after the 2008 earthquake. Relief organizations asked the affected what they needed first. One would have assumed housing. But in fact, housing was fourth out of four things for which the communities asked. Dead last! Number one: boats. To get out there and resume fishing and earning livelihoods for their families. Two: schools. Not because of any overriding educational mission, it was to give their kids a place to stay during the day so BOTH parents could go out to make a living. Three: policy support for small/medium enterprises. So 3 out of 4 were jobs related.
So why the partial tangent? I see from your project not only passion about achieving the technology of a low-cost extension, but also passion about the community that has come together and the catalyst of their own initiatives in urban farming, recycling, art, bee tending, baking (the snacks looked lovely).
Perhaps the frame or vision lies as much in reconnecting with our village-like intertwining of skills and craft, of community and barter, of shared effort and reward. We could very simply order a prefab made in China and probably delivered and assembled for well under EUR5k. Indeed 5k can buy a whole house for some families in the Philippines or India.
But instead you have invigorated a social awakening of neighborly pursuits, of learning and making tangible these academic lessons of sustainability and resilience and less-is-more.
May I humbly suggest: that if you have the ability to do so, that your documentation include not only the lessons of the construction technique, sourcing, labour saving, etc., but also the lessons of synergies with community initiatives and skills. And these would not be hard and fast prescriptions for, say, materials chosen. Indeed, your own thoughtfulness in evaluating potential materials (whether cardboard, charred timber, or plastic) is a far more valuable model of methodology for someone else in the world, than the specific decision that is appropriate for this particular project.
In my architecture school, our ceilings and systems were all exposed, to help us learn as students of building. Perhaps the life of the project after completion, as a learning tool and storytelling aid, can also reveal the techniques, questions and passions that gave it life, and the life it gave to the community.
All the very best,
Sylvester Wong

Is the world not a wonderful place? That someone on the opposite end of the globe would take the time for such a considered response is both moving and inspiring. When I asked him for permission to quote him, he gave it with the same generosity as his time!

And maybe the universe did conspire to send him in my way? I have pulled the tongue from my cheek and have even started wondering if there is a special significance about the number 5:…5kextension, Fiverr, my house number 104 which adds up to 5…Any students of the Kaballah out there to help me out?..

In the meantime our shed is near completion – the ancestors delivered via the angel Ken Milofsky of our local DIY store www.woodworkers.ie  the most fantastic end-of-line materials, given with good intention, which will finish the interior of the shed! So far we have spent a grand total of €36 to build it. It has become a work of pure craft and beauty.

And we have no choice but to wait for the worker bees to choose to persuade their queen that our bee lure will make a lovely new home..

Thank you Sylvester from www.catalyscity.comYou are  welcome in my backyard anytime, and long may you continue your brave work championing communities and design, while staying unbeholden to the corporate world! IMG_0454

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Bloom Fringe @ the 5kextension

Bloom Fringe – which is a spin-off of the hugely successful garden festival Bloom –  came together with the 5k extension project for a day of collaboration, creativity, sowing seeds, inspiration and connectivity. The sun shone on us too…

Decorations IIISDecorations IIS Gardennearly nearly therefinishedDecorations1S Decorations IVS Krystoff's family Model long viewMore modelModel with clipwashing line of ideas 353IMG_0420Krystoff relaxingIMG_0444Inside the shedS IMG_0440 IMG_0436 IMG_0409359

BouncingS

IMG_0454 Thank you Joanne Betty Conlon from Pixelated and Ned Costello for the photos. Thanks to Karin Stierle for the recycled flower garden and for sharing her passion and vast knowledge on beekeeping, Thank you to my excellent neighbours who opened their gardens and in doing that, opening  a window into their souls.

Thanks to everyone who attended and shared their thoughts and ideas..

 

A Plastic Extension?

The philosopher Alain de Botton describes plastic as the most “uncompromising and contemporary of materials.”

It might seem strange that such a contemporary material carries a nostalgic significance for me, stirring memories of my pre-adolescent childhood, when I showed some potential to be a competitive swimmer. A time, before I was steered away through self-consciousness and the lure of boys, I would train twice daily in a swimming pool under a vaulted shelter of poly-carbonate plastic. The smells of chlorine and chemicals and the condensation from steam rising and meeting the cool early morning air at the membrane of this plastic temple, provided a micro climate where we could swim, meditative and quiet, held womblike in the water. A space somewhat toxic but where potential was infinite.

It is not surprising therefore that Polycarbonate plastic is a contender for material of choice for the 5k extension.

The possibilities with plastic are infinite , as it is a material remarkable in its ability to be extruded, moulded, cast, or poured into anything – for example clothing fibers, packaging etc. Product designers bravely use it to make high-design objects. In construction and architecture however, it is most often associated with garage lean-tos, roof lights or walk ways.

The Irish architecture firm Architecture Republic elevated the industrial use of the material in The Plastic House

Plastic house

All photos of Plastic House, Architecture Republic by Paul Tierney

Plastic house

Plastic house Plastic house

In this renovation project a small Dublin house is excavated and a space is created. Inserted into the space is the polycarbonate and steel cruciform living space. This innovative project fits seamlessly into the Dublin streetscape.

I am neither an architect nor an engineer but my investigations into using polycarbonate sheeting as a vertical wall option show that it can be a viable option for our project:

polycarbonate sheets, 5kextension, plastic houseThe 25mm multiwall sheet is lightweight, with a high stiffness to weight ratio, translucent, durable and damage resistant. It is up to 200 times stronger than glass fire resistant and self extinguishing.

Cost effective: 1/3 to 1/2 less than the cost of insulated glass. A 7m by 2.1m 25mm sheet is available in the Republic of Ireland for €335.00. Because the sheets are so long (up to 13 m) they  can run ridge to eave in one continuous piece, thereby saving on structural materials and installation time. In terms of energy saving , the R-Values of the 25mm multi-wall polycarbonate are as high as 3.78, with better insulating properties than triple-glazed or argon filled high performance double-glazed insulated glass.

While being seduced by my emotional and memory response as well as the exciting thought of a glowing light filled box in my garden, I do need to think about the tremendous negative impact plastic might have on the environment and on our health.

In the interest of ‘sustainability’, recycling of plastic has become much more efficient. As well as this, levels of toxicity in plastics are being addressed by manufacturers. However the production of plastic still requires huge resources and is polluting; the potential health risks are still not fully understood, and; the indefinite and (mostly) non-biodegradable qualities of plastic ensure that, as a material, it is effectively immune to meaningful decay. All of this opens a much larger debate on ‘sustainability‘ and whether the use of a petrochemical generated material can be considered “sustainable” by virtue of the fact it is recycled?

These questions need robust answers going forward, Plastic is like the adolescent in the world of  material- malleable, brash, still in the process of developing and being refined. It does not command our trust, like wood and stone or even concrete which has been allowed to develop since Ancient Roman times. Like an adolescent plastic lurks about on building sites in damp-proof membranes, rawl plugs and PVA’s. Giving the material exposure and pushing architectural boundaries as seen in the examples on this page, will go a long way towards opening up the debate, assisting us make informed choices, and spurring manufacturers and regulatory bodies to further their investigations.

If we do decide to use this material on the 5k extension, I am sure our architects on the project will face regulatory and structural obstacles. This project is experimental, why not acknowledge the adolescent that is within us all and test some boundaries?

In the meantime relish in the brave and uncompromising use of plastic in the following images:

Kengo Kuma Oribe Tea room. Plastc extension Kengo Kuma Oribe Tea room. Interior Plastic extension

The structure pictured above is the Oribe Tea House Pavilion by Kengo Kuma.  It is constructed of corrugated plastic sheets hollowed out to create a serene cocoon-like space within.

Hojo-an after 800 Years

The Hojo-an after 800 Years Pavillion by Kengo Kuma

Serpentine PavillionSerpentine Pavilion by Alvaro Siza Panes of polycarbonate fill in the squares of the grid Solar panels in the center of each roof panel soak up power and are used to illuminate the pavilion at dusk

moomoo plaastic house The Plastic House of Lodz, Poland designed by Moomoo Architects. It is  clad in Thermoplan  a plastic roofing material.

AL1 Architektinnen - Low energy housing, Wienerwald 2012. Via, photos (C) Clemens Franke.

AL1 Architektinnen – Low energy housing, Wienerwald 2012. Via, photos (C) Clemens Franke.

plasticamentePlasticamente Pavilion by Riccardo Giovanetti.  The 130 square meter structure is made from shiny, white, plastic disks and houses an exhibition for children about plastics and recycling.

I have recently found out that even Bees Do It… Read this article on Motherboard about bees building nests with our recycled plastic. 

Have you built with plastic? Are you thinking about it? Let us know your opinions and experiences..?

Container Living

Anyone who knows me, would testify to the fact that I am utterly fascinated with housing and  design. I have a real interest in low-cost housing and alternative ways of providing shelter.

Many years ago I read about a student housing project in Amsterdam, which was revolutionary in that the housing units were constructed from disused shipping containers. I was intrigued and excited by this concept, and made a point of visiting the site when I was travelling in The Netherlands.

Since then I have been on the look- out for other interesting structures made from shipping containers. I have scoured the internet looking for ideas, as I always had in mind the possibility of using a container for my own back yard project

In my mind’s eye, the container would sit where my utility room is. I would have to demolish the utility room so the container would attach to the west side of the house and extend 20 or 40 feet down into the garden. Containers are usually only 8 feet wide and I would have that space available. It would fit neatly down the side of the house without having to change the French doors leading to the garden and I could customise it like some I had previously seen.

I looked into purchasing a second-hand 20 foot or 40 foot container –

Used shipping Containers in good condition can be purchased in Ireland for about €1650 incl. VAT for a 20 foot container and about €2400 incl. VAT for a 40 foot Container.

What I did not bargain for was the cost of transporting and craning the container over the roof of my house, which could cost from €950 -€1500.

So with the demolition of the utility room; purchasing the container and transporting it – my budget would be decimated. And that is before any structural changes, insulation etc.. Unfortunately a disused container is not on the cards for this specific project.

However, take a look at some exciting structures made from disused containers

This shipping container guesthouse is fitted with a bathroom and one side is used as a garden shed. love the living roof poteetarchitects.com

This shipping container guesthouse is fitted with a bathroom and one side is used as a garden shed. I love the living roof!  poteetarchitects.com

Two shipping containers surround a taller common space. The containers flanking the central space are used for work and sleep  while the central area is used for dining, and living and a loft above.  This structure is off-grid using solar orientation, passive cooling, green roofs, pellet stove heating and photovoltaics to create electricity. www.studioht.co

Two shipping containers surround a taller common space. The containers flanking the central space are used for work and sleep while the central area is used for dining, and living and a loft above. This structure is off-grid using solar orientation, passive cooling, green roofs, pellet stove heating and photovoltaics to create electricity. http://www.studioht.co

The Cross Box, France, comprised of 4 x 40' shipping containers, accommodation totals 1280 sq ft. cgarchitectes.fr Note the different types of cladding

The Cross Box, France, comprised of 4 x 40′ shipping containers, accommodation totals 1280 sq ft. cgarchitectes.fr Note the different types of cladding

The Manifesto House. Constructed from 85% recycled, reused and nonpolluting materials  Two 40-foot shipping containers and two 20-foot shipping containers sided with wooden pallets.

The Manifesto House. Constructed from 85% recycled, reused and nonpolluting materials Two 40-foot shipping containers and two 20-foot shipping containers sided with wooden pallets.

Interior view of The Manifesto House

Interior view of The Manifesto House

Containers of Hope, Costa Rica. The roof between the two salvaged containers, is made from the scrap pieces of metal cut out to make the windows. The central roof creates a feeling of openness and provides cross ventilation and diminishes the need for air conditioning (not that air conditioning is required in Dublin!) benjamingarciasaxe.com

Containers of Hope, Costa Rica. The roof between the two salvaged containers, is made from the scrap pieces of metal cut out to make the windows. The central roof creates a feeling of openness and provides cross ventilation and diminishes the need for air conditioning (not that air conditioning is required in Dublin!) benjamingarciasaxe.com

Keetwonen is the largest container city in the world (1000 units) and is the second most popular student dormitory offered by the student housing corporation "De Key" in Amsterdam. each unit is soundproof and has its own bathroom, kitchen and balcony.  tempohousing.com

Keetwonen -Student Housing, in Amsterdam is the largest container city in the world (1000 units). Each unit is soundproofed and has its own bathroom, kitchen and balcony. tempohousing.com

an office building in Japan

an office building in Japan

I will be watching with great interest Cathy Hogan’s container house  project. She is building a low-cost house (€25000) in County Kilkenny – Very Innovative for rural Ireland

The Glazed Link Idea

The Simon community is a charity which tackles homelessness in Ireland, and is supported by Irish Architects who offer their time and expertise for a very small fee, all of which goes to the charity, over the period of a weekend in the year.

It was through this very worthwhile Simon Open Door campaign, that I met Gary Mongey of Box Architecture. He was very generous with his time and gave me excellent advice. He shared some really creative ideas including considering the use of polycarbonate plastic sheeting as an inexpensive, efficient building material.

He also allowed me to consider an alternative placement for the extension on the east side of the garden. I had thought that would not be possible, because of space restrictions and budget,  but he referenced one of his own designs:

“A lightweight steel structure and planar glazing system links the new and the original domestic elements creating a delicate but dynamic connection”
“A lightweight steel structure and planar glazing system links the new and the original domestic elements creating a delicate but dynamic connection”
Plan view of the site at Lough Derg
Plan view of the site at Lough Derg
“The glazed link functions as a buffer between the new and old buildings”Photos of Lough Derg courtesy of Paul Tierney for www.box.ie

“The glazed link functions as a buffer between the new and old buildings”                                                                     Photos of Lough Derg courtesy of Paul Tierney for box.ie

In Gary’s design a glazed link connects the new building with the old…This got me thinking that I too could also use some form of a clear link. The link would substantially increase the scope of our design possibilities: insofar as allowing us to build a separate space not directly connected to the existing building. This could be advantageous for a few reasons:

  • We may not have to impact on the existing building too much. Gary had also given me the important advice, that the less you alter the existing buildings, the lower the cost generally speaking.
  • We could have more room to manoeuvre where to place the structure, therefore we may not be as constrained in the choice of materials by planning regulations. Planning regulations state that a structure bordering a neighbour’s garden would have to be a solid wall

So when Kryzsztof showed me how he had made his conservatory terrace with discarded materials, It planted the seed that perhaps the clear link was not beyond our budget possibilities.

Krzsyztof built this porch from discarded pieces of perspex and found timber. the floor is composite wood boards on a base built from disused pallets compo

Krzsyztof built this porch from discarded pieces of perspex and found timber. The floor is composite wood boards on a base built from disused pallets

Now I realise this is not as  fabulous a glazed structure as Gary’s steel and glass one – but hey! beggars can’t be choosers

Krzysztof Piwowarczyk

Krzysztof Piwowarczyk, despite having a name that sends the spell-check into overdrive, is a wonderful source of ideas.

Krzysztof and I have worked on many projects over the years, he is a master carpenter, having learned his trade from his father before him. We sit together at the aforementioned kitchen table, while I serve him  a mug of instant coffee, which he claims is “the best coffee in Dublin”, and he quietly shares stories about his family, his ideas and his experiences of living through interesting times during Poland’s difficult history.

I have met some extraordinary people who have immigrated to Ireland , in pursuit of a new secure life, they bring with them all of their courage and resourcefulness . I share a strong affinity with people traveling from Eastern Europe , I like to believe that this stems from a bond which my own ancestry brings, which saw my grandparents and great grandparents before them also, having to shift from their birthplaces in Eastern Europe in search of a better life. I have observed different tradesmen from countries like Latvia, Lithuania and the Ukraine, and have admired the can-do attitude, where the answer to any request is  “no problem”, when a mend-it solution is often sought rather than a wasteful replace-it one. Where people have a multitude of skills and have a work ethic that is deep and strong.

Krzysztof, embodies all of that resourcefulness, along with superb skill and creativity. I was fascinated when he showed me pictures of his house in Poland which he had built himself, and lovingly finished. He showed me how he had clad an internal room with small pieces of timber that resembled a brick pattern. Krzysztof had been working in a factory which made transistor  radios and he had held onto the small rectangle pieces of timber that were cut from the face of the radio to expose the dial, and it was with these that he painstakingly clad the walls of his living room!

pallet base

A few weeks ago Krzysztof asked if he could look at my back garden. He had no idea about my thoughts or plans for it, or that i was thinking of polycarbonate plastic as a possible building material. He looked at it and said he could make me a Perspex conservatory. He was in the process of making one for his home out of found materials. He had been working in a factory in Wicklow which manufactures amongst other things, canopies for petrol stations. Krzysztof had been collecting  ends of clear Perspex which were heading for disposal, and along with the timber from pallets he had constructed this terrace conservatory.

Base complete

Base complete

And here you have it a beautiful conservatory made from free materials.

finished1

Now for a cup of tea

Now for a cup of tea