A Cornish Thatching Revival?

We have been working on an interesting idea recently. The revival of thatching in Cornwall!

 Concept proposal by Lilyrose for a Cornish  home and Ayurveda clinic using home grown wheat.

Concept proposal by Lilyrose for a Cornish  home and Ayurveda clinic using home grown wheat.

Like many parts of the British Isles straw was the go to material when it came to thatching a roof in Cornwall. Once the grain was harvested from the wheat the left over stems where the perfect by product for a roof covering. The earliest known form in Cornwall was the circular iron age roundhouses. 

 Iron Age roundhouse reconstruction near Chacewater, Cornwall. Image: Historic Environment Service.

Iron Age roundhouse reconstruction near Chacewater, Cornwall. Image: Historic Environment Service.

Throughout the centuries, straw continued to be the most popular choice for roofing in Cornwall, until the 1800’s where commercial slate production in wales and Cornwall and the expansion of rail and canal networks, left the thatcher hard pushed to compete with the speed of industrialization. Other factors like rural depopulation from the two World Wars, the enclosure of commons and the scientific breeding of crops leading to shorter, stronger- stemmed wheat varieties also propelled the decline of thatching in Cornwall. With a huge shortage of straw in the 1950’s Thatching was all but over for the mainstream construction industry. Today the traditional ‘Long Straw’ thatch remains firmly in the realms of Conservation Architecture.

 This is the Quaker Meeting House at Come-to-Good, near Feock, Cornwall, built in 1709-10 of cob and thatch and the loft ( gallery ) added in 1717.

This is the Quaker Meeting House at Come-to-Good, near Feock, Cornwall, built in 1709-10 of cob and thatch and the loft ( gallery ) added in 1717.

In recent times there have been a number of contemporary uses of thatch in the UK and Europe.

 Top down: The Lighthouse(Formby, UK)) - DK Architects, Waden Sea Center(RIbe,Denmark) - Dorte Mandrup, Enterprise Center (East Anglia, UK)- Architype, Tåkern Visitor Centre (Glänås, Sweden) - Wingårdh Arkitektkontor.

Top down: The Lighthouse(Formby, UK)) - DK Architects, Waden Sea Center(RIbe,Denmark) - Dorte Mandrup, Enterprise Center (East Anglia, UK)- Architype, Tåkern Visitor Centre (Glänås, Sweden) - Wingårdh Arkitektkontor.

There are some very important factors why this material should be revived. For one  it is highly insulative with an impressive thermal conductivity of 0.07 W/m·K.  Secondly it's environmental impact is low.  Research suggests that straw has an embodied energy quotient of 0.24 MJ/kg, which is much lower than the likes of concrete blocks at 0.81 MJ/kg and brick at 8.20MJ/kg. The environmental impact of the straw is negligible as it is completely biodegradable and also sequesters carbon as it grows, so by using it more widely in the construction industry can only lead to a reduction in C02. In theory it is also a by-product of the food industry, although most wheat varieties are not suitable for thatching as they had been bred with too short a stem. The practice of producing longer stem varieties to satisfy both the food and construction industries is not commonly practiced, but would surely increase if the wider use of straw in the construction was realized. Farming this way would mean an increased income to the farmer as straw began to be recognized as a primary crop and not something to be got rid of, two birds with one stone as the saying goes. We are unaware of any Modern thatched architecture in Cornwall. but if you know of any please get in touch. 

 

Individual needs and Community cohesion - Getting the balance right

Balancing the needs of an expanding population, both in terms of space and technological innovation, with the richness of patterns, form and narratives of the past is not always an easy en devour for those of us practicing Architecture. Recently we submitted a proposal for a loft extension in which was met with fervor opposition from the neighbors, eventually leading us to withdraw the application to begin redesigning. Inevitably all architecture will have an impact on the  community in which it is built, some for better others for worse.  Ultimately all architecture helps shape the future narrative about our collective identity, our combined aesthetic ideas of what constitutes 'good design' and  the values and principles we embody as a community. We aimed to fulfill  the client spacial and aesthetic desires along with the local authorities expectations, fully laden with the weight of bureaucracy and cultural expectations about how we honor past examples of good design. In considering this outcome one comment stood out "If we had been consulted beforehand we would have made our feeling clear about our concerns!"  Admittedly we did not speak to the neighbors prior to submission, instead relying on the little yellow public notice to fulfill our obligation to let them know what we were up to. Could this impersonal, informal nature of the public notification  been the cause of the hostility? maybe we should have sent letters to the neighbors inviting them into the design process? or maybe it was indeed simply too much for the people and place at this moment in time? If we are to make architecture that speaks of its time yet respectful of its rich history, then surely it must be rooted in open constructive communication between all parties affected? Here's to good communication and getting the balance right in the end!

 A Proposal for a rear loft extension within a historic Victorian terrace, now back on the drawing board!

A Proposal for a rear loft extension within a historic Victorian terrace, now back on the drawing board!

ACTIVAUS - Connected retirement

Activaus is about enabling retirees to live in connected communities linked to community activity hubs.  Check out our proposal for this new type of retirement lifestyle here.

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Ambos- Falmouth & Penryn Cohousing

Lilyrose will be aiding the development of Cornwall's first Mutual Home Ownership Society. Ambos, set up by local residents, exists to give local residents more choice when it come to models of housing provision, which is currently dominated by volume house developers.

They are proposing to create a cohousing community, in which facilities are shared including gardens, workshops, laundry and office space. Residents can also share meals in the evening if they so wish and commute using electric vehicles from the communities car pool. The unique aspect about the project is that it is utilizing a financial structure that effectively takes homes out of the housing market, by converting members equity to shares in the cooperative which are tied into the national average wage.  Ambos hopes that the growth of this model will help return a sense of community building rather than simply building houses for profit.  Lilyrose will be helping to develop the initial concept and will help advise Ambos in selecting the design and contractor team. Find out more about their project at here.

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