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, …

Pizza oven

The children of Happy Days nursery, Dalkeith, wait with anticipation while they watch their handmade pizzas cook in their new pizza oven. The oven arrived with mesh around the insulation which we rendered and decorated with mosaic tiles. Not an empty plate to be seen!

Newbyres Castle – Recording the archaeology

Last Wednesday I organised the latest community workshop at Newbyres castle – a 16th century ruin in the heart of Gorebridge. The day was lead by Piers Dixon, an archaeologist from Historic Environment Scotland, who was ably helped by two colleagues – Eva Boyle and Adam Welfare. The day started with a tour of the castle and the land around. Piers speculated about what buildings might have surrounded the castle. By looking at the flat areas and man-made banks, some of which were only just discernible to the layman’s eye, we slowly built up a picture of what might have stood here once, including workshops, barns and kitchen gardens.  We then took a more detailed look at the ruins themselves …

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.”

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 …

Tree columns bring wildlife into nursery

Tree columns bring wildlife into nursery

Horntails, or wood wasps, have made their nests in the internal oak trees supporting the roof of Halvorsen Architects’ recently completed Happy Days nursery extension, along with several other species of insect! Rather than be alarmed at their new, uninvited guests, the creative and environmentally-friendly nursery has embraced the chance to study wildlife indoors and set their under fives a project on these mean-looking but quite harmless beasts! (See blog for more information on this project)