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 (www.constructiveindividuals.com), 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.

w.anderson@independent.co.uk

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
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?