Apparently we use 25% less fuel in our homes than we did 8 years ago, reflecting the move towards better insulation but mainly the fact that it’s getting too expensive to leave the heating on. I think this will influence design in future years.
Having driven from Norway to the ferry, then through Denmark, across Germany and into Holland all in one day I was glad not to have a tachograph fitted to the car as 12 hours behind the wheel is not a good idea. It was the several road works which got me off the motorways and onto the by-roads, and I was interested to see how the domestic buildings were influenced by the local conditions and available materials. I’d have to admit that the 4 storey block of apartments floating on a pontoon in a very attractive suburb of Rotterdam made me smile, and the hotel overlooking the water was high enough for me to admire the juxtaposition of high rise flats and late night emporia (or was that Birmingham?).
It’s always nice to get home, but the realisation that the pantiles which define our roofscape originated in the western mainland of Europe was very clear. The present fad of timber cladding still has a lot to learn from our continual cousins, and the use of concrete somehow has more style abroad than we see here.
The massiveness of the reed thatched roofs of many buildings near the waterways of western Germany were a surprise, but bricks are used wherever clay subsoils are present and stone is always used as a building material where it is readily available. The look of local architecture does vary but it does seem to me that there is a tendency towards a standardisation of style using a rendered finish to walls for modern housing.
There are other areas of Europe with the rolling low-lying countryside and big skies which make much of Norfolk so attractive, but no other place which have the honey-brown Carstone of west Norfolk, the flint cobbles of North Norfolk, or the clay lump of South Norfolk. The mellow red-brick of the area, and pamment floor tiles, have been a feature since Roman times (visit Caistor or Burgh castle), and timber framed period houses show how potentially perishable materials can survive if looked after.
What this has brought home to me in addition to my family and our luggage, is that we have historically used the materials and facilities locally available, and that’s one of the messages of the current move towards sustainable construction which has a low carbon footprint. I can see how local resources can be harnessed for energy saving, and keep lorries off the road. Whether our visiting mother-in-law by car was more fuel efficient than flying the family out I don’t know, but the car drive has reminded me that local methods of building evolved for a reason. Straw walled house, anyone?