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Issue 246
January/February 2008
Gandhi's Gift: The Power Of Nonviolence

Reviews

Build Beautiful
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Cover: Gandhi drawing by Xanthe Mosley

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Green Books

Build Beautiful

The Green Self-build Book: How to Design and Build Your Own Eco-home Jon Broome Green Books, UK, 2007, £25.00

THE SUB-TITLE OF this book could be slightly misleading. It won’t tell you how to build your own eco-home, but it will most certainly tell you how to design it, and design it well at that. Jon Broome clearly explains the importance of good, straightforward design to the overall aim of reducing our environmental impact when we build. Broome is well known for his work with the Segal method of self-building – simple, lightweight wood-frame buildings that are easy to fabricate and erect by unskilled individuals or groups – and his enthusiasm for this system pervades the book, along with examples of cob, straw, hemp and earth-sheltered buildings.

All the expected and vital aspects of green building are included. Site ecology, durability, energy use, health, waste and consumption are all covered properly, and ideas on how to create a sustainable garden are a nice touch; but it is the refreshingly low-impact overall approach that I particularly liked about this book. In no way are we encouraged to spend extravagantly or find expensive technological solutions as is common nowadays. Most of the buildings used as examples are relatively small and uncomplicated in design, and the decision to build with this philosophy is perhaps the best step any self-builder can take towards reducing negative environmental impact and climate change.

Decisions as to which specific materials to use can be the hardest ones, so the elements of what makes a house – from foundations to doors to roof – are separated and discussed, after which the author’s first, second and third preferences are given. This works well, simplifying the whole process usefully. The resource section at the back is, however, by no means exhaustive, and a greater range of products could have been given.

A far harder thing to do than build green is to build beautiful, and the inclusion of excerpts from Christopher Alexander’s classic A Pattern Language is most welcome, and encourages us to really think through the subtleties of design as a physical and emotional experience. We want to enjoy our homes, and the early morning sun illuminating our kitchens, and this approach can make a profound difference. I also liked the inclusion of a month-by-month diary of Broome’s own experience of building a house, giving real insight into the whole process and highlighting potential pitfalls.

In conclusion I would say this is an excellent book – obviously the outcome of many years’ practical involvement with self-building. It would be useful to architects and professional builders, but especially to people or groups needing guidance on that most important of decisions: how to design and then go on to build a home that is right for them and right for our planet.

Jamie Lovekin designs and builds green oak buildings.

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