Sun trap in Dunbar

Halvorsen Architects recently finished an extension to and remodelling of a 1970s house in Dunbar, East Lothian. A sun room, at the heart of the house, links the principal rooms and, with the removal of a wall, creates a large open plan kitchen-dining room. Light floods in through the wall-to-wall South-facing glazing, high-level East-facing clerestory windows and a large roof light. The clients call it their “Lovely Room” and in the depths of winter said this: “We love the Lovely Room! Despite the freezing weather outside the room is flooded with light and heat (currently 22 degrees from sunlight only). We’d feared the kitchen would feel like a dark cave but it has plenty of light too. We’re always delighted …

Wild strawberries on roof

Last month I visited Shepherd House, Inveresk, where I have carried out several small projects and was delighted to see wild strawberries growing on the green roof of the potting shed designed by Halvorsen Architects. The roof was planted with ferns originally and over the years wildflowers have self-seeded there, but this is the first fruit to take root.

SEDA conference 2019

A group of ecologically-minded people gathered in Forres to visit a collection of inspiring sustainable enterprises, hear some stimulating talks and exchange green ideas. Having spent the previous couple of months organising SEDA’s (Scottish Ecological Design Association) annual conference, it was underway at last. For me the highlight was the trip to Makar Ltd. – architect Neil Sutherland’s factory that prefabricates timber-framed buildings using local materials. Neil employs nearly 50 people including joiners and architects. They work on a series of ‘stages’ assembling a whole panel on each platform following the Toyota fabrication method, of which Neil is an admirer. All the timber is local, the insulation is made from recycled newspaper and the panels from wood fibre. I believe …

Nursery conference

The venue was more Bohemian than most – the top floor of a celebrated French restaurant in Soho. I had been asked to give a talk about nursery design by My Montessori Child. The theme of the conference was Quality – Quality in Spirit, Quality in Space and Quality in Service. I was asked to speak on quality in space. I opened my talk with an overview of ecological design, which sits perfectly with Maria Montessori’s philosophy on living in harmony with nature. This part included how to make a healthy indoor environment and how that can benefit a child’s health and well-being. I then went on to describe various aspects of design for young children – scale, movement, materials, …

The benefits of risk in the playground

For children to learn, it is essential that they take some risks and this is something pupils at Happy Days nursery, Eskbank are now able to do thanks to the new Halvorsen Architects-designed play area at the site. The playground was completed in June and the children are clambering excitedly all over the trees and ropes, negotiating the various obstacles with great dexterity. Research and common sense show that children need to take some risks in order to develop cognitive, social and physical competencies. Imposing too many restrictions on outdoor play hinders their development. They need to be given the mental and physical space to figure out appropriate risk levels for themselves. The natural forms of the trees at the …

Renewable energies CPD

Earlier this month I organised a CPD to unravel the complexities – claims and counterclaims – around the renewable energy sector. Several independent experts gave their views on how to sort through the issues and provided us with much food for thought. Thank you to all who contributed to an enlightening afternoon.

100 Sustainable Scottish Buildings

I recently attended the book launch of “100 Sustainable Scottish Buildings” by SEDA (Scottish Ecological Design Association). I strongly recommend it to everyone. As Robin Harper (SEDA’s patron) said “It is a celebration of new ideas, of ingenuity, imagination, philosophy and art, a tribute to creativity, joyfulness, human scale design, an expression of our dedication to live with nature and the ow of life, to be genuinely sustainable in every possible way.”

Woodland to playground

Halvorsen Architects have just completed phase I of a new playground at Happy Days’ Eskbank nursery school. All the oak and larch trees were sourced from nearby woodland – trees that otherwise have no commercial value and were due for clearance. A tree lorry carrying all the wood just sneezed through the nursery gates and the on-board crane manoeuvred the trees seamlessly into place. It remarkably only took three days for Leslie Winthrop’s team to position all the trees – either in meter deep holes in the ground or laid above ground – and build the structure to carry the various decks. All is now ready for phase II – decking and balustrades. The play pieces follow a path from …

Slovenian wood

Last week I was in Slovenia for a tour of Riko’s timber factory in Ribnica, about an hour’s drive south of the capital Ljubljiana. I was invited there to look at their facilities as I am intending to make the Woodland Nursery out of timber, or — more specifically — out of cross-laminated timber panels (CLT). Cross-laminated timber is large-format, innovative, engineered timber that is manufactured off-site. It was first developed in the sawmills of Austria and Germany in the early 1990s there are now CLT factories right across Europe, but not yet in the UK. Although wood has been used in buildings for centuries, the development and production of large format CLT panels was the first time a wood …

Whole tree structure – first in UK?

This is an abridged version of an article for the next issue of Association of Scottish Hardwood Sawmillers. If I had known how difficult this project was going to be, would I have still done it in the way I did? – absolutely! Genesis (J&T) Ltd., owner of a successful pre-school nursery chain in Midlothian asked me to design an extension to their Dalkeith branch. They chose my practice, Halvorsen Architects, having seen a timber treehouse we designed and built with a local P7 class. Genesis is run by a delightful and energetic family of Greek descent who I find easy to engage with due to our mutual love of the outdoors and aspirations for the children. Genesis have won many awards …