Architecture: House of the future? Straw, bamboo and cybertronics

The building ideas for the millennium and beyond come from the millennium before, says Nonie Niesewand. Well some of them.

The hard-core hard-hat industry trade fair is about the last place you'd expect to find a hay bale billed as a building material of the future. Huffing and puffing engineers, builders and architects cracked the jokes about three little pigs and the wolf who blew down their house to architect Jeremy Till perched upon hay bales. But he has the last laugh. Islington council gave him and his partner, architect Sarah Wiggles-worth, planning permission to use hay as an insulation material in their conversion of an old industrial building in north London. They also built an acoustics wall made of sandbags filled with sand and cement, bought from a fire protection firm. It cuts the noise from the railway running alongside one wall of the building. There's a turf roof - slightly tilted for drainage - upon which strawberries will grow. And a reed bed in the garden that cleans up the water naturally; and a lavatory that doesn't flush. Instead, chopped straw, unseasoned hardwood sawdust and a handful of topsoil will keep it sweet smelling. They've kept the original gabion walls, the same steel cages filled with rocks that you sometimes see on motorway embankments, to stop the cliff falling in on the place.

"We got the go-ahead on our conversion from a building control officer at Islington Council; she was a Nigerian and felt quite easy about it," says Jeremy Till.

Maybe they are the Swampies of architecture. But with planning permission to start on site with their own house in April 1998, they make a radical eco-chic contribution. Jeremy Till defends some of the more challenging ideas, such as hay as an insulating material, by pointing out that in Canada loss adjusters consider it less of a fire risk than normal insulation.

Another green builder, architect Neil Winder, built his house in East Anglia - and a neighbouring farm - with reed-beds that naturally filter used water from the house ("grey water" from sinks, washing machines and baths rather than lavatories). Just as the Marsh Arabs discovered centuries ago - but, as he explains, "When my new client is a loss adjuster, I must be doing something right."

Doing something right - ie environmentally friendly and cost effective - is the big issue. And architects are asked to be the astrologers for the next millennium.

Will they envisage us living in bamboo-built houses? Bamboo is fast becoming the staple in modern design. Whether utilised as building material or a source of inspiration, it's the world's best renewable resource of the future. Bamboo can grow more than 47ft in 24 hours. It survived the Hiroshima bomb. Oliver Wise saw it turned into a 400-bedroom hotel in Ecuador, where they put templates over the young shoots to make them grow in triangles or squares. It has lightness, strength and suppleness and it's hollow. It can be woven, and has tensile strength. It splits straight, which is why Thomas Edison used a splinter of bamboo as a filament for another world first, the light bulb in 1892.

So much for the low-tech; now for the hi-tech. Your house of the future will welcome you with open doors if you wear a jewellery pin that carries your personal transponder. The same software makes your Switch card work. If you wear a jewellery pin that carries your personal information diverted to a phone and computer circuited in your house, lights come on as you arrive, the doors open, appliances start up. Bill Gates of Microsoft already has a house on the shores of Lake Washington that is wired to a computer console. Inhabitants wear an electronic pin linked to consoles in each room so that houses respond to individual needs, from opening garage doors to putting on the washing machine or the video. When anyone in the Gates household gets a phone call, only the phone nearest the person will ring. Information is beamed up on the console screen. He calls it the house that tracks its occupants.

Now for the hardware, which was easier for the building industry to wrap their heads around. Chipboard is stronger, capable of covering bigger spans, with glues between the off-cuts instead of synthetic resins. A group of architects are building the Utopia pavilion at Expo '98 with this wooden chipboard. Cement, which weathers so badly that Richard Rogers had to come up with a master-plan at the South Bank to put all that concrete under a wavy glass roof, gets a face-lift with carbonation in the manufacturing process so that it weathers well. Even better for bridge builders - it doesn't drop off steel frame structures. Solar roof panels - metallic, looking like jade and amber and agate - will make roofs more colourful at the same time as making buildings absorb energy through every exposed face. What is interesting about these proposals is that they come from a civil engineering and construction base. This isn't a computer-aided design fantasy for the next century that projects whizzy furniture and smart ideas that involve inflation, space launching and techno materials we haven't even heard of. Growing bamboo shoots in geometric shapes for the building industry is weird.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

    £60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

    AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

    £600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

    E-Commerce Developer

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child