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
Property search
Latest stories from i100
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

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager-Managed Services-£80,000 OTE

£45000 - £80000 per annum + £80,000 OTE + Car,benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Busine...

Langley James : IT Sales Executive;Borehamwood;£40k(neg) uncapped comm£100k+OTE

£40000 per annum + £100k+ OTE: Langley James : IT Sales Executive; connectivit...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Award winning Peterborough base...

Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

£55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital