Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Group Tadelakt on The Family Farm

My little sister is currently working at The Family Farm in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand and she sent me some photos of the recent tadelakt art installation which takes pride of place in their new eco lodge. I love these pictures because of the group effort; adults and children from around the world coming together for an act of eco building. Tadelakt is not the most accessible form of plastering, it takes skill and patience and practice and yet these children can say they were involved in the creation of this beautiful art across a chimney breast which will last years, continuing to be beautiful and give them pride and pleasure.

Rendered in the News

My first clay plastering job with Het Leemniscaat has made the 'news'! I worked on the internal clay render of this gorgeous house in one of the first days in Belgium last year. (The 'before' pictures are in one of my early blog posts) Mathias let me practice clay plastering the kitchen shelves and niches before letting me loose with a trowel and pallet knife on the upstairs bedrooms. I also worked on the external lime render with red pigments during the last days in Belgium. It rained so hard that the red pigment went everywhere and the team looked as if they'd been in an abbatoir all day, my boots didn't dry out fully until after I'd already got back to England.

The house is one of 4 houses and an art space occupied by a community in the countryside outside Antwerp. This house was the first to be renovated from its dilapidated state and was designed by Peter Voss of Barchi Architects. It has a timber frame which sits inside the stone work of the original barn, a suspended floor which is insulated from below with sea shells and hempcrete. Underfloor heating is imbedded in the hemp and bamboo flooring is laid on top.  

A glass section has been incorporated into the new roof to provide natural light and a glass section of floor gives the impression of a double height atrium at the entrance. The inside walls are hempcrete and straw bale sections with clay plaster. The downstairs ceilings have been lime washed and preserve the original arches of the barn. Externally the walls have been lime rendered to protect the hemp and straw sections from weather. 

This house provided the template for the other houses which needed renovation on site and the home owners took on much of the work themselves following days spent working with the Het team.  

In the pictures below you can see the gold glints of straw in the plaster. This occurs when the clay has been sponged several times with successively drier sponges which transforms the walls from wet brown plaster to smooth, hard, glimmering gold. 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Capability Noble

The brief for this garden was to provide as much planting space as I could, create a curved path to the back gate, remove the white doors and design an alternative entrance and if possible, save the apple tree. The design we arrived at involved moving the shed, finding a place for the bins and making the most of the sun traps.

I have taken up the old decking, removed the patio bricks, demolished the old back wall and free-cycled the unwanted back gates.

I have laid a new patio and curving path, built new raised beds and a new back wall with an arch around the apple tree and another for the new gate (which arrives in a few weeks, fingers crossed it fits). I had help with some of the bricklaying from Marius at MG Brick Specialists based in Reading, and support from my family and friends for the long days.

The planting will happen over the summer, the lady of the house is very excited to spend a few months ordering fruit trees and plants, I hope to get a proper 'after' photo in September..

Before, view from the house

Before, view towards the house
 The family with their secret trapdoor

Classy lunch

My mum helping with paving
An ants nest hiding in the old mortar

Getting started on the new wall

Apple blossom
Arch detail around the apple tree

Marius of MG Brick Specialists
When he heard the deadline for the job and
looked at the list of jobs still to do, he asked 'Are you from the tv?' 

Happy worker into the last 36 hours..
we left site at 10pm that day after completing the beds
The curving path
8.30pm Just need to load the car for a final tip run.
Trumpet vine

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Kate Noble: Master of Science

I'm in the front row, second from left.
After 2 years of fitting studies in around a full time job, in Norwich and then in Belgium, I have finally written the thesis and passed my Masters degree.

Apart from spending many glorious weeks at the Graduate School of the Environment at the Centre for Alternative Technology in mid-Wales, this course has also led to my giving talks to the Norfolk and Suffolk fire services on photovoltaic electrical fire safety; going self-employed; meeting Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs; working with Rowland Keeble of Rammed Earth Consulting; swimming in quarries in January and camping in sand dunes in July.

My thesis, titled 'Hot Property:  A feasibility study into the use of air conditioning condensate as irrigation for promoting biodiverse green roofs on commercial buildings in hot arid climates' gained a distinction grade and is in the process of being turned into a publishable article.

Getting Squeezed by Kevin McCloud!

The view from the Centre of Alternative Technology; A wonderful place to study

Rammed earth bricks

Swimming in the quarry

Yoga on the deck
My supportive friends in the last hours of the thesis write-up

Selecting lime for the kiln
Easter Bonnets & the Built Environment

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Restoration of a Trullo, Puglia

In September, I spent a month working with a restoration team in Southern Italy rebuilding a trullo. Trullis are conical dry stone buildings which are only found in a small area of Puglia. We were restoring one on a residential property just outside Ceglie Messapica. It was quite a diverse international team and a challenge not only to complete the project but also to work in harmony together and with our Italian Trullaro.

Trullis have 2 layers from the ground to the peak. The circular base and walls have to be wide enough to support the roof which means that the room size inside is quite small compared with the diameter of the structure. The inner roof is made up of corbled stones, each one is dressed on all six sides to create a smooth inner cone. The outer roof is made up of chianche or tile-like stones. These are also dressed to fit together and prevent water ingress. The two layers are held together with skill, gravity and harting stones.

We ate incredible local food, swam in a perfect blue sea, explored a huge ghost city, made pasta shaped abstractly like ears, drank red wine and laved in olive oil.
Inner cone of a trullo in need of restoration

Lintel of an inner door, linking two trulli

Taking advantage of rare steps up the roof to do some yoga on top of an ancient trullo.
Alberobello, UNesco heritage site


Day 1, 60's additon of cement render affected the integrity of the chianche
Love limestone

After removing the cement and the chianche

Chianche laid out for reuse

Dressing a new chianche
For more details, watch this:

Selecting the perfect chianche

The peak to aim for

Our Trullaro, Mario, checking the angle of the laid stone


Grapes for this season's vintage

The corbled walls of a new 'Scottish Trullo'
Ripe figs PYO

The Team
Blissful evening after working hard

Pomegrate PYO
Applying lime plaster

An olive tree growing up through a ruined trullo

An organic olive grove, dotted with ruins

I was working in collaboration with Thea Alvin of My Earthwork, Amanda Roelle of Archistrati and Norman Haddow of Walls Without Mortar. It was an honour.

This month was transformative and I want to share Thea's words with you.

"There is something quite magical, literally, about Italy. It simply exists, it doesn’t boast, or flaunt, though surely, it has fathered and mothered masters of all genres. It doesn’t hold itself loftily above others, though its pedestal is pretty tall.

Italy, my Italy, is one filled with a timeless feeling of wanting to contribute to its effortless lineage of stone, of stone art, of small works, nothing masterful, of the daily, every day workings, the things that make life real and rich.

Crushing thyme on my slippered feet, I walk below the bay tree setting the table in a vineyard for dinner, this night, mid summer, we serve 18. The meal is still in the kitchen and an 8 year old Italian set of golden curls wildly bundled and wrapped in something velvet and tasseled helps me, correcting my diction, and putting the forks on the proper side of the plate. She abruptly rejects a spotted wine glass, and seriously delivers the water pitchers with their beaded lace coverlets. The train from Switzerland screams through the valley and the Churches in town begin to ring out seven peals. Dinner in an hour, the roses, ripe right on time, the pears and figs and plums too. The grapes are heavy on the vine, but they need another month or so until its time, and tray upon tray of tomatoes were carefully split and laid to dry in the sun. It’s so deep in layers of sensation, that the top or the bottom is intertwined and the flavors that soak into my skin and heart can be recalled even now, in early spring with such real authenticity, that I well with tears. This place has so formed me, transformed me, informs me. These mountains, these hearty joyful people, this music, the wine, the stone. The language of place. The shape of the smell... We sit there for hours and hours sharing the meal, laughing, crying sometimes, but above all, soaking it in. all of it, each one of the parts of it, soaking it in until saturated and we begin to swim in it and splash in it.

Italy, this Italy is rich in something so tangible, so non materialistic. It is fluent in love. It speaks the language of art, and this is such a simple verse. It speaks of lizards on white washed plastered walls. It speaks of palm trees hosting visiting owls. Its splashing rivers diverted momentarily, create pools and basins to enjoy, to dip ones hands into the cold freshness and absorb the moment to hold against the tedium, the tears, the labour of all the balance of the days."

Rolling Stones