Spend it Better: Environmentally friendly can be the more beautiful option in design

Rise of eco-building could yet make Dermot Bannon’s glass box extensions look dated

Harrison Gardner’s Build Everything out of Anything course

Harrison Gardner’s Build Everything out of Anything course

 

The world is running out of sand. This startling fact opened eco-builder Harrison Gardner’s (harrisongardner.net) first talk on his Build Everything out of Anything course last month. It’s down to our love affair with reinforced concrete dating back to the 1860s when French gardener Joseph Monier patented concrete pots made with iron mesh. Monier’s breakthrough gave concrete the tensile strength which has allowed it to march across the world.

We now extract 50 billion tonnes of sand and gravel a year and it’s this building sand that is running out. Concrete needs jagged edged sand, not grains smoothed by wind and water so beach and desert stuff won’t do.

On the eco-building course on Kate Egan’s farm, An Ghrian Glas in Westmeath, we spent a lot of time talking about building resources, making cob for walls, sawing timber for a building with a lighter footprint.

Construction and demolition waste is a problem the EU is tackling and one of the pillars of our circular economy plans. We do little with it now other than backfill roads. Skips are routinely filled with a mix of everything rather than separating components to be recycled or reused. As we retrofit 500,000 homes we could regenerate skills using local resources. Traditional materials such as lime, straw and clay can help create warm healthy homes. Gardner, who’s based in Co Clare, is making a show for RTÉ mentoring people renovating tumbledown buildings or building from scratch.

It was all inspiring and I can add “knows her way around a mitre saw” to a growing list of oddly satisfying new skills. Inspiration also came from fellow students such as Deirdre O’Sullivan, the brains and hands behind Style 25 interiors, an all-woman operation. The before and after shots on her Instagram feed will convince you that environmentally friendly can be the more beautiful and unique option. “Nothing makes me happier than seeing people reimagining what they already have instead of getting rid,” she said in a post recently. She transforms kitchens by painstakingly painting them. Then there’s the mobile home she bought and transformed into her own tiny house for a lot less than the price of some new kitchens.

We love getting rid. It can feel cathartic. But maybe we can spend it better on craftspeople who can transform what we have. Eco-building is set to be big in a way that might make the Dermot Bannon glass box extension look very of its time. Gardner's next building course is planned for October. Architect Féile Butler and Colin Ritchie of mudandwood.com have put their courses on hold for the moment. But, according to their website, Ritchie is available for construction and furniture making.

Catherine Cleary is co-founder of Pocket Forests

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