Slow Architecture or a House Built of Weed Trees

Building a house is a big frigging deal!  The Real Estate Blog says that 2.1 million houses were built in the U.S. last year, and that half of them are now sitting empty.  I don’t even want to think about the cost to the environment and the boost in our national carbon footprint that this created. Why would anyone want to add to this waste and bloat?  Why do I?

Because there has got to be a better way to create shelter, and I want to help discover and promote the methods that get us all under roofs that are not held up by toothpick two-by-fours and ticky-tacky.  I want to sculpt a living space that lets me breathe and grow without breaking the bank to heat and cool. (I’m talking about Mother Nature’s bank book as well as my own here.) When you think about it, we humans have a very narrow temperature range that we thrive in – and what we are doing to the planet to maintain that tiny margin in our buildings is not sustainable.  Not even close.

So, Doug and I have spent several years trolling everything we can find on green building, and stockpiling ideas.

A recent addition to Roald Gundersen's own workspace.

A recent addition to Roald Gundersen's own workspace.

I just about jumped out of my skin when I opened up my November/December issue of 2007 Natural Home and flipped to the featured home.  I loved its gentle curves and was thrilled to see that it got that shape from whole, unmilled trees – not the kings of the forest, but “Charlie Brown” trees – the smaller trees that are crowding every woods.  Small whole trees, I learned are much stronger than milled boards, which have had their complex pattern of fibers slashed into interchangeable building units.

When I read that Roald Gundersen,  who designed and built this house, lives outside LaCrosse just two hours from Madison, I whooped so loud that I woke my aged golden retriever.

Weeding the woods and leaving it in better health than before while building a beautiful house using slow architecture.   How win-win is that?  (Check out a You-tube video of Roald explaining here.)

Harnessing the inherent power and beauty in "Charlie Brown" trees.

Harnessing the inherent power and beauty in "Charlie Brown" trees.

Last year we visited Roald at his home and workplace,  tucked at the end of a winding road.  He just completed a site visit of our land this spring, and will incorporate trees that need to be thinned from our own 44 acres into our house.  The time table is:  plan in 2009, prepare in 2010-2011 and build in 2012.  The slow architecture gears are turning.  See more about this in my May blog, When.

Note:   I am changing my posting schedule from Monday-Wednesday-Friday to Tuesdays and Fridays so I can give each post enough time.  My next post on Tuesday will be about how what we have learned about climate change is influencing our own woods management.

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8 replies

  1. I love your place ~ wow! It must be so beautiful and in so many ways ~ just to have the tress and nature around.
    I have always loved nature and so happy to see that someone else out there is using their creative juices to preserve it! 🙂

    • Thank you for your kind words. This is a kind of building that I hope will become more common. I think people would be happy living in whole tree homes, and the sure have a lighter carbon footprint.

  2. What is different in our approach is that it identifies a potentially empirically verifiable relationship between the type of goods that an economy specializes in and its rate of economic growth. ,

  3. To be honest I’m only sligghtly impressed. I feel there are qualifiers to ‘green’ architecture and building in my mind. The first that comes to mind is the tools, did you use powertools to build this nice ‘green’ home? If you did you missed half the point of true green building. I’m asuming you did your research on the matierals, which is good, but did you go local for the windows, hardware, carpet/ flooring, and solar energy system? If not, what’s the point of going green when you use so much transportation energy getting the non local material there. Sorry to rip in to you so much, but it’s important to keep in mind how you build, and who you really are supporting when you buy your matierial.

    • Hi kampfire,
      Your questions are valid. If you have built a home without power tools and of all local materials, then you know how challenging this can be.
      Our house will be built next summer, and will include as much local materials as we can find. I am very aware of the costs (both financial and environmental) of hauling materials around the country and the world. I think we will be able to find most of our materials locally, but we will also be using some power tools.
      Everyone must draw their own lines, and I think judicious use of power tools will be part of the picture.
      For example, I’m sure a chain saw will be used to fell the trees, but they will be dragged out of the woods by human effort during the winter when their passage does the least damage.
      Each material and each step in the process will be considered. Stay tuned, if you are interested.

  4. Your thoughtful way of building is something I find inspiring Denise. There are pluses and minuses on each side of the equation. Local materials maybe of inferior quality, is bringing in something from outside that will last, better than constantly replacing something? Materials may just not be available locally, what are we prepared to do without? I liked the way you balanced putting in a septic tank with the use of unusual materials, deciding one battle was not worth fighting at this stage. It is not an easy track for sure.

    • Yes, Joanna,
      You are walking the walk and understand, I’m sure, how each decision must be weighed.
      We are definitely building this house for many more people than us. In our early 60s, we can hope for another 20 years of being able to farm. So ultimately, we are building for the generation of people wanting to live lightly on the land and contribute to the local food shed. And on and on.

      I’ve been a vegetarian for a long time, and over that period my reasons have gradually shifted to be prompted predominantly by environmental concerns. I no longer expect everyone to “see the light” and stop eating other animals. I would like factory farming to stop because people select meat produced in green and humane ways.

      I apply that same set of guidelines to our building process. If we can do it ourselves. If we can do it locally. And we can do a reasonable job of it, we go for it.

      Part of our purpose in building is also to provide an example of alternatives that others can follow, and if we go too far from the norm, fewer people will be able to see their way to try something non traditional.

      Finally, cost is part of the equation. Like many people in this country, we are working with less resources than we used to have. I don’t really mind that. It is highly focusing. But it is a very real factor.

      Every little decision is complex and a genuine learning opportunity.

      I appreciate your feedback.

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