As part of my research for the Sangharakshita Land Project I was recently shown around the brand new 'Wise Building' at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, Wales. When I think of us engaging in sustainable responsible and creative new build I would be truly delighted if we were able to follow a similar path to this complex.
The building is constructed out of low embodied energy materials such as hemp and lime, rammed earth and sustainably sourced timber. At 7.2 metres, the circular walls of the auditorium are the highest rammed earth walls in the UK and were my favourite element in the whole building. To make rammed earth walls, loose, moist subsoil is compacted in thin layers between shuttering or formwork. Mechanical compaction forces clay molecules to bond with the aggregate (a physical rather than a chemical bond), giving the wall its strength. The rammed earth provides structural support for the roof, but does not form the external walls – these are timber-framed glazing (on the south side) and hemp and lime. There is a corridor around the auditorium, between the rammed earth and the external walls. The rammed earth wall has a delicious texture and acts as a passive heat store as well as providing substantial sound insulation.
Apart from the 180-seat theatre the building holds seminar rooms, workshops, restaurant, outdoor spaces and 24 en suite twin bedrooms. It's heated by solar panels, biomass and passive solar. Basically it's a showcase building in sustainable technology and as well as being 'worthy' it's well designed. I've just read that the Daily Telegraph has awarded it the 'Top Building of 2010' and although I wouldn't agree that it's 'ravishingly beautiful' it is a building we can learn from and perhaps, with the right architects, even go beyond….
See also sangharakshitalandproject.co.uk