Friday, September 29, 2006


Built in 1636? That's old. And it's in the New World. The Fairbanks house in Dedham, Massachusetts is the oldest timberframe home in America.

Another example: This is called foresight.

Open Building Exposure

I hope to have more to say than periodically reviewing articles in FHB, but the latest issue does contain a detailed article on exactly what this blog is about. 'Reinventing the House' by Bensonwood company steward Andrew Dey is a summary of how that company understands and applies the principles of open building.
I should say first of all, that I was drawn to these concepts in the search for a real definition of 'sustainable development' i.e., how can one improve the industry of building- an industry constantly evolving in every part of the world, from remodeling suburbs to developing countries, from restoration of historic city districts to the most modern skyscrapers- with the realisation that just the scale of construction today is a great part of the unprecedented impact that modern humans have on our environment. I'm not sure exactly when I first thought that even considering responsibility for this impact was important at all, but certainly having a child recently has given me cause to push further ahead with being part of the solution. Who doesn't want their children's children to at least have the chances we have? Living here for four summers didn't hurt my appreciation for the sanctity of pristine ecosystems.
So why be concerned at all about changing the way we build our environment (that is what we are creating, a 'built environment')? What is 'green' or 'environmental' anyway? Yurts?
EMR shielding canopies?
What about just thinking about what our present course may mean for future generations? How much evidence does it take to stop pretending our impact on global ecology and biological systems is negligible or harmless, doesn't exist, that we are helpless to take action in any case, or that technology alone will solve any problems we cause to the planet's vitality?
I'm sure most of this isn't new or news to most of you, but watching the slow, complex, and convoluted workings of environmental policy closely (through my wife's work in the relatively liberal European Union), has forced me to conclude that the real message is still passing many of us by.
'Reinventing the House' is a comprehensive look at open building as practiced by one U.S. timberframing company. As far as focusing on sustainability (basically just trying to leave things at least as good as you found them), the concept of open building (with it's roots in commercial building techniques) is a strategy that reduces waste through efficient use of resources and sytem design; incorporates a long term view through adaptability and seperating the 'use' layers of a building; and takes advantage of off-site fabrication, cutting edge technology, and a respect for tried and true craftsmanship. In the interest of conserving my own resources- here are some better explanations and great resources:
-Dutch architect N.J. Habraken's informed take,
-International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction definition,
-Bensonwood's white paper.
It's not cohesive or foolproof or adapted for every climate, clientele, or society, yet- but it is a significant step in the right direction.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Old Danish stairs

We visited the town of Haderslev, Denmark recently for a friend's wedding. While there, we took a day trip across Jutland to the town of Ribe where we climbed a great number of stairs in the Ribe Cathedral. An amazing old building, I had never before seen timber stairs cut like this.

Oddly enough, I was watching British kid's programming today with my son and I saw another set in an old half-timbered house that the puppets of 'Tweenies' were visiting...

Here is a pair of half-timbered houses leaning towards each other in Haderslev-