An imperishable house?

The sustainability and eco renewability were very important factors in our house planning. I do not have any doubts that if our house will be maintained properly in the future, it can stand and serve its inhabitants for a very long time. The question is, will they want it?


Many times I have encountered this approach of attempting to design and build a family house so solid, so permanent that 'nothing' will destroy it. From the safety point of view I understand. You don't want a slightly stronger wind to blow your house down. You want to feel secure and be firmly protected by its rigid walls. That's why a good architect also thinks of the climate and the usual weather patterns that might affect a particular construction in the future. This is further enforced by local building laws, which ensure that any new house should be theoretically a structure sturdy enough to withstand a minimum of 50-100 years of lifetime.

Nowadays, there are numerous building materials and construction types available on the market. To name the few most common ones there is a terracotta brick, a sand-lime brick, a wood and different types of concrete blocks. The alternative types are represented mostly by cob and straw. After a lot of my own research I am convinced that all of these materials can provide an exceptional endurance, durability and stability. Yet, my claim can only be valid when the construction quality reaches a very high level of craftsmanship.

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Look around the world. You can still find the traditional wooden houses of Scandinavia, log cabins of Canada, stone cottages around the Mediterranean coast dating back hundreds of years. They may not be reaching the energy standards of today's, but they are still standing and occupied. Moreover, providing a lovely unique features of former artistry and a remarkable ingenuity they are constantly on demand by history appreciative buyers. I suppose most of these homes have gone through a few refurbishments already and with a proper maintenance they still have years of life ahead. Not many buildings are this lucky, though.

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When we bought our old house, it was standing there for exactly 160 years. The walls were made of stone and clay, plastered with a traditional lime. The two lovely front windows were facing south east and the whole lot was founded on big pieces of rock scattered around a sloping land. Due to this instability the walls got cracked. It was obvious no maintenance had been done for decades. I considered these circumstances unfortunately fortunate for us as well as for the old house. Unfortunately, we knew the house had fulfilled its purpose and had to go. We were fortunate to be still able to appreciate its beauty, its old age and to be able to say farewell to it in the most sensitive way. We were also fortunate knowing that to demolish it was fairly straight forward as it was built purely from natural, healthy and recyclable materials.

I am finally getting to my point now. When we were designing our new house we were naturally aware it was meant to be a family home. We were not building a fortress, or a temple, or any significantly meaningful structure dedicated to any other purpose apart from that of a comfortable living. Technically speaking, we chose a construction so sturdy that it should be able to please its residents for at least as long as the old stone house, which it was replacing. Sustainability wise we chose every element - from foundation all the way to the roof top - very cleverly.

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Now, I might sound like a very very bad great-great grand parent when I tell you that I don't think I need to be solving the housing needs of my future great-great grand children. Undoubtedly, I would be delighted knowing that they'd kept it the way I designed it. In reality, it doesn't concern me as much since I will not be there to see it. Very likely the living standard trends will be completely different anyway. There are so many possibilities that can take place.

  • They can sell it.
  • I might even sell it myself during my own life time.
  • They can, and most likely will, refurbish it by changing its disposition at least once.
  • They will need to upgrade it to new energy standards.
  • They will move away, not sell, nor maintain it and leave it to decay.
  • Some natural disaster might strike it down.
  • And here comes the most interesting option - they will demolish it.

A very weird sounding question arises. How do you demolish our newly designed house? The answer is - easily. At least as smoothly as we demolished our old house. We designed it in such a way it should be easy, cheap and ecological to deconstruct and then recycle the materials. The concrete pillar foundations can be either reused as foundations again or dug out whole and reused for a completely different purpose.

The bottom line is, everything is perishable. Let's not make it difficult for the nature to deal with our mess for too long. I would advise anyone who decides to build a new house to keep this in mind. And as 'bad' a future great-great grand mother as I described myself earlier, I certainly do have my offsprings' future and happiness in mind by using healthy renewable resources as much as possible.