Designing and building small

Small is beautiful



Pavilions African Style

This is sustainable building at it’s best.  Small buildings made form straw, mud and sticks plus coconut leaves for the roofs.  A large family lives here on the coast of East Africa near Malindi.

“People cannot be genuinely comfortable and healthy in a house which is not theirs. All forms of rental – whether from private landlords or public housing agencies – work against the natural processes which allow people to form stable, self-healing communities.”

“Do everything possible to make the traditional forms of rental impossible, indeed, illegal. Give every household its own home, with space enough for a garden. Keep the emphasis in the definition of ownership on control, not on financial ownership, which give people control over their houses and gardens, but make financial speculation impossible, choose these forms above all others. In all cases give people the legal power, and the physical opportunity to modify and repair their own places. Build these houses in such a way that every individual home – even apartments – have a garden where vegetables will grow, and that in every situation, each family can build, and change, and add to their home as they wish.”

-Pattern #79, A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander et al: ISBN 0-19-501919-9.

This pattern from Christopher Alexander’s stunning 1977 book makes so much sense to us personally. Susan and I have taken several of Christopher’s patterns and used them to design our own strawbale home in Ganmain. Not everyone agrees with Alexander’s patterns but they make so much sense to us, building as we do, from straw bales.

“Low-cost, sustainable building”; and that is what this is all about for us, with the emphasis on sustainable. If we choose to build a home today we are bombarded by choices. In every Saturday newspaper and on television and radio we are persuaded to build large two-storey homes. These homes have 4 or 5 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, three eating areas, a minimum of two garages – always on the front (the car is king) – a rumpus room, library, study and so on. The latest trend is for a room specially for the home theatre and media. Madness. Why do we need 380 square metres when the average Australian family size is 2.4 people!

If you want to build a house like the one described above then do not use strawbales because you will not be building a sustainable home, no matter what materials you are using. It will cost you as much if not more than a conventional double-brick home.  Come to Africa with us one day and we will show you how our fellow Kenyans live lightly on the planet.