Diary Of An Eco-Builder

The last act of our Clapham drama is closing and many players have exited
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The Independent Online

Two weeks to go. Previous completion dates have come and gone but this time there is no Plan B. After three-and-a-half years of dreaming, planning, designing and building, it's now high time Tree House became a home.

"Completion" is a euphemism, of course. In the first week or two of habitation we may only have one room and a working toilet to delight in. Fortunately the room in question is the big vaulted space at the top of the house that opens on to the balcony in the canopy of our tree. Given how central the tree has been to our ideas, it seems appropriate that we will begin our new life in its gentle embrace.

The core ambition for Tree House has always been that it should "work like a tree". The building is perfectly adapted to its climatic conditions, it is made primarily from sustainable materials and, above all, it turns to the sun to meet all its energy needs.

Our tree has also found its way into the structural design - the tree-like form of the building is now very apparent - and into many of the details. The latter include the Douglas fir tree trunks supporting our staircase, the salvaged metal fence evoking the patterns and texture of bark and the stained glass inspired by light through the canopy of a tree on a summer's day.

This week another arboreal detail appeared on site courtesy of the Hackney-based Green Bottle Unit ( www.eluna.org.uk, 020-7241 7474). This innovative company makes paving tiles from recycled glass, successfully exploiting the variegated patina and colour of the material.

In the autumn I photographed a fallen leaf from our tree, turned the image into a silhouette and sent it to the unit to turn into something special. The result: 11 blue-green leaves that will never fade, guiding visitors on the short path through our garden to the door of Tree House.

These tiles are the only non-porous elements in our front garden. The planners insisted that we have a "hard standing" for a vehicle, even though we have no intention of keeping one, but we are taking care to maintain the ecological functions of the garden despite this.

As Victoria Summerley describes in more detail on page nine, the cementing of front gardens in favour of cars has many adverse effects, including higher urban temperatures and an increased risk of flooding.

To avoid these problems we have used porous paving that can support the weight of a car but lets rainwater through and allows plants to grow, including species such as bugle and thyme that can cope with being run over. We are using the Grassington Paving System, supplied by LBS Garden Warehouse ( www.lbsgardendirect.co.uk, 01282 873370), a plastic interlocking mesh that all but disappears when packed with gravel or earth.

Although setting out the front garden is one of many unfinished tasks, the last act of our little Clapham drama is drawing to a close and many players have exited.

George, whom I first met when he was chopping brambles on day two, is back to basics (foundations) in Forest Hill. Pete and Mark are labouring in Kilburn. Next week Nikolin will finish the last carpentry details and be looking for work (with an excellent reference from me - call 07883 376038). Even foreman Steve, who has kept the show on the road with unfailing good humour, will be off to headline in someone else's dream production (or perhaps just an office block). I shall miss them all.

If you are looking for inspiration for your own eco-building dreams, there are details aplenty at the annual Homes for Good exhibition in Taunton, running from Friday to Sunday this week at the Somerset College of Arts and Technology ( www.sustainablehousing.org.uk, 01458 259400). Hope to see you there.

'The Complete Diary of an Eco-Builder' will be published by Green Books in May. www.treehouseclapham.org.uk

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