Patterns in Natural Building Design

Circles as Problems

When it comes to architecture, circles are inferior for a variety of reasons. For a single room, a circle is not so bad, but anything larger requires interior walls, and that produces problems when it comes to lighting, which means the rooms and interior will have natural light from a single side of the building (albeit a bit curved). This is not to say that squares and rectangles are always superior, or that circles and rounded shapes are not always bad.

However, when dealing with land as the scarecest resource and largest cost of most projects, the shear costs of circles in terms of lost opportunities is something that should always be seriously considered. This is especially the case in building areas which are necessarily rectangular, and one or more circles becomes more difficult to justify in terms of utility as well as aesthetics.

This is not to mention the problem of roofs on circles which can become quite difficult (especially with earthbag construction) as recipocal and compression roofs can be tricky to engineer, and the only other choices are more or less flat roofs (custom made to fit a circle), and other forms of rafters which can have issues with placing a square over a circle (not impossible by any means, but not optimal).

Once one is freed from bewitchment by a circle or set of intersecting circles/curves (and the Pattern Language and Timeless Way of Building helps free one from the same), then one can begin to experiment with other shapes, namely rectangles. The main impetus of the second set of shames was building rectangles at various angles for bed alcoves, which is a particularly interesting pattern.

After one comes to the conclusion that a lot of space is taken up by extraneous nooks along the exterior wall (without any real advantage, as light on two sides is already achieved at corners of the buildings*), then a more comprehensive and simpler shape emerges, as such:

The first designs are, when consolidated into a single circle, roughly 78m2 (a 10m circle). This size circle does not even fit within the final building envelope that is possible (with 2 and 3m setbacks from each side). The final design has a 141.75m2 exterior envelope, and with two recessed doorways, 136.5m2. Excluding exterior walls, there is a 118.75m2 area, and excluding interior walls, approximately 100m2 in a three bedroom, two bathroom, large open living room/dining room/kitchen area, and a library.

We want to do sliding barn door style doors, with all doors recessed inside the rooms. This provides maximum usable floor area within all rooms. Exterior doors will be 2m x 0.9m and 2m x 0.75m, and interior doors 2m x 0.75m.

Patterns and Natural Building

Patterns don't make much sense unless there is first a thorough reading and understanding of A Pattern Language and The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander. The best approach is to sort out an initial design and then commence reading the 2,500 or so pages of the two books. After that a tremendous sensitivity will come into the project, both in terms of external walls but also internal walls, fixtures, as well as the approach to building.

Patterns are very complementary to natural building design and construction. Just as with Permaculture zone zero, what is intended is a living system with multiple interacting elements (or rather, a multitude of relationships).

Patterns for the Earthbag House

After much consideration, the following patterns are included in and enliven the design of the earthbag house (which started as a roundhouse, transitioned into various shapes, and resulted in a rectangle with two recessed doorways).

The pattern numbers and titles are taken from Alexanders' book.

#076. House for a small family
#079. Your own home
#112. Entrance transition
#127. Intimacy gradient
#128. Indoor sunlight
#129. Common areas at the heart
#139. Farmhouse kitchen
#159. Light on two sides
#160. Building edges
#178. Compost
#179. Alcoves
#180. Window place
#182. Eating atmosphere
#188. Bed alcove
#190. Ceiling height variety
#193. Half-open wall
#197. Thick walls
#198. Closets between rooms
#199. Sunny counter
#200. Open shelves
#201. Waist high shelf
#202. Built-in seats
#203. Child caves
#204. Secret place
#206. Efficient structure
#211. Thickening outer wall
#217. Perimeter beam
#219. Floor-ceiling vaults
#222. Low sill
#223. Deep reveals
#225. Frames as thickened edges
#229. Duct space
#236. Windows which open wide
#237. Solid doors with glass
#238. Filtered light
#239. Small panes
#240. Half-inch trim
#241. Seat spots
#242. Front door bench
#245. Raised flowers
#246. Climbing plants
#247. Paving with cracks between stones
#248. Soft tile and brick
#250. Warm colors
#251. Different chairs
#252. Pools of light
#253. Things from your life

More patterns of interest

While the above constitutes a large number of patterns, there are more that are of interest, but for one reason or another are not included in this particular design at this time:

#018. Network of learning
025. Access to water
#057. Children in the city
#064. Pools and streams
#068. Connected play
#071. Still Water (also, Stepped Well)
#086. Children's home
#104. Site repair
#105. South-facing outdoors
#106. Postitive outdoor space
#107. Wings of light
#113. Car connection
#115. Courtyards which live
#120. Paths and goals
#121. Path shape
#122. Building fronts
#125. Stair seats
#130. Entrance room
#131. Flow through rooms
#134. Zen view
#136. Couple's realm
#137. Children's realm
#142. Sequence of sitting spaces
#144. Bathing room
#145. Bulk storage
#152. Half-private office
#162. North face
#163. Outdoor room
#170. Fruit trees
#171. Tree places
#176. Garden seat
#183. Workplace enclosure
#189. Dressing room
#192. Windows overlooking life
#216. Box column
#226. Column place
#227. Colun connection
#245. Sitting wall