In harmony with nature


stork’s nest in Esna

Last week, I was participating in the annual meeting of Baltic Ecovillage Network. In a mysterious and beautiful manor near the Estonian village Esna, the participants gathered to discuss vital aspects of eco-communities and future projects of the cooperation. Eventually, we visited Sven Aluste who lived nearby. Some time ago, he had moved with his family from the Tallin’s center to the countryside. Now, they have a pretty big land, inhabited with horses, ponies, donkeys, chickens, dogs and cats. There are many other things happening to add to this lively environment, since they offer various training courses in horse-riding, permaculture and natural building. And it is the latter I would like to talk a little more about.


building a straw-bale house, image credit Philipp

The use of natural techniques is becoming a new trend in building solutions. One of the examples of this are straw-bale houses.This approach to building has a very rich history starting from thousands of thousands years ago. The real boom was witnessed in the 1850s, when a mechanical hay baler was invented. What makes straw-bale houses so special in the light of sustainability pursuits is that they are made from renewable materials (straw and clay) and their insulation quality that reduce the need for heating and cooling. With enough experience and prepared materials, a one family house can be built for just two weekends. To ensure a long life of such a house, it is important to approach the building process with care and professionalism.


Sven Aluste’s new house made of reed-bale

One of such professionals is Sven himself. All of the buildings on his farm are built by him, and he is also continuously invited to help with other projects. Instead of straw, Sven uses reed as a material, which can be found in coastal areas.While designing houses, he pays attention to traditional architectural approaches, which add much cultural value to buildings. Inside, one can find a rocket stove covered with clay. Not only does it more efficiently burn wood, but also its pipe, which is stretched throughout the sleeping room, ensures that warm from steam is used to the fullest. Water heating panels, which Sven plans to install soon, and separate toilets add a lot to the environmental profile of this Estonian farm.

All this may seem small scale for making any substantial change, but if the trend develops and eventually involves high density communities, great results may follow.



Collaboration for greater results


(image credit: EG Focus)

Through 50% reduction in energy use and 80% in CO2 emissions, The Co-op believes that their new home ” will create a benchmark for every other UK business and showcase what can be achieved through a socially responsible approach to design and construction”.

“One Angel Square” is the new headquarters of The Co-op, a large consumer cooperative in the UK. It is located in Manchester, and with its 15 stories is the biggest building in the city. But it’s not about the size or the unique design of the building that  have deserved great attention. According to BREEAM, this is the most environmentally friendly building in the world with its highest ever rating of 95,16%.

It has many impressive features – from on-site heat and power production (geothermal, biomass, solar) and the intelligent  design that allows much sunlight without overheating, to rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling, LED lights throughout and so on (check BREEAM profile).

How did this become possible? Well, I believe that the biggest credit should be given to the collaboration between the project participants. Given the high complexity of a building life cycle, it is extremely important for all players to fight fragmentation that occurs throughout the process, and the key to it is integrated design-build-operate practices.

Technology is already out there, only organizational change is needed.

“We are building the biggest passive house in Sweden”


Kungsholmen in Stockholm is soon going to be famous for the biggest residential block in Sweden that is build according to the passive house standards. It will accomodate 187 appartments and a kindergarten. The company behind the project is Einar Mattson (click for info in Swedish and images).

The house is nicely insulated and almost doesn’t lose heat. The technology allows the house to gain heat from the sun, which may be not very promissing in Sweden in some seasons :), so it will mostly rely on the heat that already exists in the house – from cooking, electric devices, even from people themselves. Special pumps and advanced ventilation system allow for circulating heat, as well as fresh air with no need for openning windows. Even the heat from cars will be reused for supporting the garage.

Future inhabitants will also have to act responsibly. There will be individual metering for water and electricity usage. In return, they get huge energy savings, comfortable, healthy and bright indoor environment and points for saving the environment!

While the apartment price may seem pretty high (it varies, but goes up to around 68000 SEK per sq.m), when one considers the location AND, what is more important, the life-cycle costs, it is relatively fine. Interested? You can already move at the beginning of the next year.

* passive houses are extremely energy efficient buildings that appeared as a concept in 1988. The first houses were built two years later in Germany. There are already more than 15000 of them just in Europe.