Lean Building

The design, building or conversion of houses using local skills and resources, and suited to self-reliant community.

The stock of buildings inherited by the Lean Economy is likely to be larger than it needs. It might not, therefore, build many new homes, but there will be drastic transformations. Here are three guidelines:

The first requirement of building, or retrofitting, in the local Lean Economy is that it should use a form of appropriate technology, in the sense that it is within the reach of what the community can do for itself.L14 We cannot be sure what technologies will be available. We cannot even be certain that core technologies such as photovoltaics will be obtainable on any significant scale. But we can be sure that people will want to use their houses for more than just living in. Participants—with character—will want to work there, to make a practical reality of their self-reliant lives, and to adapt their houses to meet those needs.L15 Houses will have the dynamic, flexible quality which was recommended by a report in the mid-twentieth century:

With the greatly increased rate of social and economic change, the adaptable house is becoming a national necessity. . . . We see the investigation of the practical possibilities of doing it easily and at a reasonable cost as one of the most important lines of future research into the development of design and structure. The sooner it is started the better.

The Parker Morris Report, “Homes for Today and Tomorrow”, 1961.L16

The second requirement is energy-efficiency. The recognised standard for this is the Passivhaus, which combines the highest energy efficiency with real comfort. It is based on an airtight, super-insulated fabric, with ventilation designed for heat recovery—heat exchangers gather heat from stale air on the way out and transfer it to fresh air as it comes in. Depending on the weather conditions, the Passivhaus can reduce energy dependency by some 85 percent. Crucially, Passivhaus standards can be reached by retrofitting existing houses.L17

Short of the extreme standards of the Passivhaus, there is still a lot that can be done to improve the energy-efficiency of houses. Simple draught-proofing can halve the energy needed for heating. Then there is the familiar range of options such as double glazing, cavity wall insulation—the standard solutions described in today’s rich literature.L18

Thirdly, houses should be recognised, not as mere artefacts—things for living in—but as living parts of a pattern extending into the neighbourhood and landscape. This is close to the recurring idea of grammar in Lean Logic, and it was famously developed by the architect Christopher Alexander and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1970s.L19

We are speaking a ‘pattern language’, they suggest, when we build houses in clusters, in terraces, as work communities, in neighbourhoods, with small public squares, high places such as church spires, and common land, with space for play, for living out-of-doors, for animals. They advise: treat every site as individual and plan specifically for it; build houses which face the sun, which let in abundant light, which join up with others. Have big common areas at the heart of the household, such as farmhouse kitchens; family members need rooms of their own as well as spaces for common eating and for their work. Alexander and his colleagues like window-seats and windows overlooking local life. They like fireplaces. They like terraced slopes, places of shade under trees, and garden walls. They recommend vegetable gardens. They argue for places which have been designed with the living, rather than the engineering, in mind. And the idea of the pattern language has more recently been explored for application on the larger scale of Transition.L20


Related entries:

Home, Holon, Social City.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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