As Tree House nears completion I am optimistic that the outcome of our long months of thought, design and labour will be something more than an interesting sustainable building. The house will, I think, be beautiful.
I would like to argue that sustainability and beauty were ineluctably linked but of course they are not. There are plenty of ugly eco-houses in the world and beauty is resolutely value-free: environmental degradation can be beautiful too, as the film Koyaanisqatsi illustrated brilliantly for 1980s America. Nonetheless there is a particular beauty inherent in sustainable design which, in the right hands, shines through.
As we want Tree House to capture this beauty in every detail, one of our largest possessions will have to be sold before we move in. On any aesthetic reckoning, a battered K-reg Nissan Primera is going to be too darn ugly for the front garden of Tree House, to say nothing of the obvious impact it will have on our low carbon ambitions.
It's taken time to work out the alternative but we are confident that we will not be giving up anything major beyond the expensive beast itself. For starters, the house is in walking distance of three tube stations, two dozen bus routes, Brixton market, Clapham High Street and our allotment. Cities like London often get criticised for their environmental impacts but this kind of localism is often much harder to achieve in the sprawling 4x4-filled countryside.
It is, however, difficult to replace the flexibility of a car, not least for getting out of the city every now and then. Our solution lies in a factory in west London where the only vehicle still built in the capital comes off its tightly-run production line: the Brompton folding bicycle ( www.bromptonbicycle.co.uk).
The Brompton is a design classic, a brilliant piece of engineering that rapidly folds up into a neat, lightweight bundle that can go with you anywhere. It solves the flexibility problem because we can get on any train whenever we want and still have transport at our destination. This is actually more attractive, at least in good weather, than trying to escape south London by car. It also solves the problems of bicycle security and storage. Ideally every new house should be built with a secure porch, outside the insulation envelope, where bikes (and vegetables) can be stored, but all too often there isn't space for this in tight urban developments. With folding bikes, all we will need is a cupboard under the stairs.
Business is booming at Brompton where Terrence and team assemble over seventy bicycles every day. Hopefully this reflects a growing awareness that there are more ways of getting from A to B than a choice of drivers' rat runs. If you need persuading, see the magazine of the same name ( www.atob.org.uk). If, like us, you don't want to completely spurn life behind the wheel, join a car club for the occasional nostalgic trip ( www.carplus.org.uk).
Personally, I think the Brompton is a beautiful product. It looks good and it does good. It is deservedly one of the exemplars in The Total Beauty of Sustainable Products by Edwin Datschefski, a book that makes a persuasive case for the convergence of beauty and sustainability.
If we succeed in capturing this convergence in Tree House, it will in large part be due to our starting point: the tree. Although strictly it has no designer (sorry Mr President), is there any better example in our everyday lives of the total beauty of sustainable design?
Will Anderson's complete 'Diary of an Eco-Builder' will be published by Green Books in Spring 2006 ( www.treehouseclapham.org.uk)Reuse content