The house that Will built

It went from a rubble-strewn plot to a fully sustainable green house: Will Anderson pens the final chapter of his ground-breaking project

I am sitting amid the boughs of a tall multi-stemmed sycamore in a quiet corner of Clapham, south London. The heavy rain last night has brought a soft glow to the spring foliage and the delicate tassle-like flowers that shelter beneath the outstretched leaves. As the canopy is still young the sunlight easily penetrates the lattice of branches, creating a patchwork of blue and green. There is little wind but the form of the tree is full of movement and life.

This is a long-awaited moment. The first entry in my unexpectedly long-running Diary of an Eco-Builder, published in full today by Green Books, began beneath the same tree. Then I was surrounded by rampant brambles and a dense entanglement of shrubs and climbers, each fighting for space in the tiny urban wilderness that was our building plot. My current elevation into the canopy is one of the many delightful outcomes of the creation of Tree House, the rather ambitious building project that has occupied most of my waking hours for the past three and a half years.

I am writing this in the top room of Tree House where great timber trusses burst from a wall of books then branch out to support our roof. Through the glass doors that open on to our little tree-top balcony we can admire the same movement in the structure of the tree, albeit expressed in an infinitely more complex manner. Interior-balcony-canopy become one space and one experience.

The house as a whole enjoys a unity of design thanks to the guiding influence of the tree. It is risky playing with organic forms in design but our architect, Peter Smithdale of Constructive Individuals (, avoided the pitfalls by being allusive rather than literal.

Our tree has also found its way into many of the details of the house including the fences that pick up the patterns in its bark, the tree trunks that support our staircase and the dappled light created by our contemporary stained glass. There is a much more profound way in which the tree inspired the design of the house. At the core of our romantic hopes for this project has always been the crazy notion that this house could "work" like a tree.

Trees are remarkable feats of engineering. They are built to last from sustainable materials. They are well adapted to their climatic conditions, coping admirably with heat, cold and desiccation. They get all their energy from the sun. They recycle all their nutrients and enhance biodiversity by supporting a wide range of flora and fauna. Their impact on both local and global ecology is benign. They are beautiful, inspiring, sustainable structures. Not a bad specification, I reckon, for a new house built at the beginning of a century in which we must either learn to swim sustainably or quite literally sink.

We may not have met every detail of this specification but we have done the best we can on our highly constrained urban site. It will be some time before we know if our combination of a high-performance building and on-site renewable technologies achieves our goal of energy self-sufficiency but early indications are encouraging. I am quite confident, however, that one of our other core goals has been achieved. We have scored the "win-win" of making eco-design work for us as well as for the planet: the house is warm, draught-free, light-filled and an absolute joy to live in.

For me, Tree House has long ceased to be an "eco-house". It is simply an imaginative response to a tricky urban location, driven by a passion for beauty in design. As far as I am concerned, design that harms the world and the prospects of current and future generations can never be truly beautiful, so our radical ecological specification is no more than a logical consequence of this passion.

There are no green flags waving from the top of Tree House. The technology and environmental design are almost entirely hidden. Many people stop on the street when we are digging the front garden and comment on the beauty of the building; few of them are aware of the quiet beauty of its environmental specification. Although ultra-bespoke Tree House will never be a model for mass housing, the discretion with which it carries its commitment to the future offers hope for universal green architecture. I am confident that, in time, this house will become a hoary old sycamore in a forest of thriving sustainable buildings.

Features of Tree House

* A highly insulated and air-tight building fabric with controlled ventilation

* Lots of natural light complemented by careful summer shading

* A rooftop solar power station and solar hot-water panel, and a ground-source heat pump that draws warmth from beneath the house

* Sustainably sourced timber frame construction

* Low-impact finishes, including Kirkstone slate, reclaimed teak floors and natural paints

* Energy-efficient lights, appliances and various electronic items

* Rainwater collection for the garden, and water-efficient toilets, taps and appliances in the house

* Recycling built in to the entire dwelling

* A pond and wildlife garden installed to enhance biodiversity

* Excellent local services and public transport connections

* To order your copy of Diary of an Eco-Builder at the special offer price of £13.95 (free p&p), phone 0845 458 9910 quoting "The Indep-endent reader offer"

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Suggested Topics
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform