Roundwood framing update – ecohut

roundwood updateSince last year’s blog on Adrian Leaman’s roundwood timber framing course, I have had the pleasure to be involved with the live project of fellow roundwooder Ellen Scrimgeour. This is the construction of a small shelter for children from Highgate Primary School to use at their self-maintained allotment site nearby. The building will be used as a focus for teaching and site activities, including learning about natural building techniques and materials.

By the time I got involved with the project there had already been a lot of hurdles overcome, including the school being given permission to use the allotment, which is already yielding a fine crop through the regular efforts of pupils, their teachers and parents. The exact size and shape of the building then needed to be agreed with the allotment community and management, and materials sourced and site set up.

Whilst modest in size, the building has been designed to showcase the natural building methods used, and is rich in details, handcrafted joints and other unique features that make this little hut a labour of love, rather than a hastily thrown together shed. As with most materials used in the project, the logs for the roundwood structure were kindly donated by forest management taking place in local urban woodland.

The building is formed around a series of four A-frames, to which are attached wall posts, ridge poles, wall plates to complete the building structure. The small scale of the structure has reinforced the notion that this is a building designed for children, with planned split level seating inside creating a cosy and enjoyable space. The walls, from natural wattle and daub, will incorporate salvaged windows and recycled glass bottle lights punctuating the earth walls. A terrace shelters the entrance, the overhanging roof shingled in oak as with the main roof of the hut, again from locally sourced wood hand cleaved on site.

The roundwood timber framing course went a long way to equip us with the necessary skills to carry out the frame construction, however we found that the application into a real project has made sense of and added to the knowledge gained. Further courses at the wonderful Orchard Barn project in suffolk (, have also helped fill in the gaps. The small scale of the structure also present a challenge with this type of construction. The overlapping “bypass” joints create angles within a frame that is ideally on one plane, and this is magnified on the smaller structure.

After several months of working the individual frame joints, a large group of volunteers, friends and family gathered together to lift the frame sections into place, temporarily securing them with additional timber, which we are now in the process of replacing with the permanent bracing in roundwood. You can see a video of the frame raising process at This was an immensely satisfying moment in the construction, where months of patient preparation with little to show really paid off with the ease that the frame sections fitted together and matched each other.

The focus of the project has not only been on the building or the pupils as the eventual end users, but the building process itself, involving the help of the pupils, their parents and teachers, children from local schools and other volunteers. For more information on the project please e-mail

Eltham Palace – One of London’s secret gems!


Part of team Cave had a fab’ day out the other week at Eltham Palace one of London’s fantastic hidden gems. A stunning 1930s Art Deco Palace full of style and decadence. Built by the wealthy Courtauld family next to the beautiful remains of Eltham Palace, the once childhood home of Henry VIII. After falling out of fashion with royalty it soon fell into disrepair and at one point the medieval great hall was used as barn for keeping cattle! Now it’s restored to it’s former glory and the 1930’s addition is among the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in England.


The stunning entrance hall, with concrete domed glass ceiling is stunning. The marvellous panelled dining room, luxurious bathroom, and the magnificent medieval Great Hall, are just some of the highlights. I particularly liked the gold mosaics in one of the bathrooms!


Eltham Palace also has beautiful gardens, so take a picnic!


To find out more visit English Heritage – Eltham Palace


Feng Shui is for everyone


From the beginning of my architectural education I was intrigued by the mystery that old civilisations expressed in their architecture.

It seems to me in our modern & fast way of life we have lost the knowledge that our ancestors used to know. In architectural terms, it seems that it was common knowledge where to build and how to orientate a buildings in the landscape and seamlessly blend both of them together. Many churches, abbeys and castles still preserve a powerful magnetism that attracts people to them.

I always pondered and tried to put myself onto the world view that those people had in order to understand the reasons behind their ways of building.

When I discovered Feng Shui I found a profound connection between landscape, buildings and how both influence its inhabitants. Feng shui is based on the Taoist vision and understanding of nature, particularly on the idea that the land is alive and filled with Chi, or energy.

There are three basic approaches to Feng Shui:

  • Form School

  • Compass School

  • Modern Feng Shui

More information and a good starting point here.

The personal approach I favour with my level of actual knowledge is a combination of the three. Therefore, Feng Shui is used to determine which area of a home has positive/negative energy flow and how to arrange the furniture and decorations in the house in order to encourage the flow of energy. It also recommends certain house layouts or house features to be avoided or to be encouraged.

As a result of following some simple basic steps and principles a house can be costumise to suit its dwellers. Of course, you can always hire a professional Feng Shui consultant and do a detailed customization of your house. A good practical book to start with is A Master Course in Feng Shui or any other by the author Eva Wong.

But at the end of the day your intention for improving the energy flow in the house has a great power too. So, then do what is feasible for to you and do and do not worry too much about what do not. For there is always scope to do more and never stop.

Paul’s Visit to the Organiclea nursery garden


Here at Cave we love getting to know our fellow worker co-ops. I had the pleasure of meeting Adam from Organic Lea at a course this year, and decided to pay them a visit one bright autumn day.

They are a community nursery garden located just on the edge of Epping forest, on a sizeable piece of land that used to be run as a nursery by the council back in the day. They are committed to bringing food cultivation back to a local scale with organic cultivation methods. I met Theo, infrastructure and site development co-ordinator (and workshop wizard extraordinaire), who took me for a tour of the site, from the glasshouses growing all kinds of chillis, to the more wild corners of the site where a dried up pond has been turned into a meeting area.

The coop has over a dozen members, and takes volunteers from local areas to help support the growing effort, but also, more crucially, learn new skills and education. Whilst I was there a happy team was netting up vine trees. They have there own wine making equipment on site and I see that the first bottles have just hit the shelves!

So this is why Theo tells me that they are not to be thought of simply as a farm, they are indeed so much more than that. For the last ten years they have done the heavy work of turning an allotment, and more recently the derelict nursery site, back to cultivation, and setting up the successful local veg-box scheme. With this in place and operating successfully, they are focussing their attention on developing the site towards their goals of providing a flagship venue for community involvement and education. This is already happening across the site with a healthy supply of local volunteers learning vital skills in cultivation and land management.

Not only are they making wine, repurposing an old milk float for home deliveries, and announcing new nursery courses for next year, they also have found the time to publish a book, details here. This has been distilled from a regular blog written by one of the growers, a unique record of how the site and the co-op has developed.

Like all worker co-ops they have a brilliant website! So do check it out at Also, if you are in the area, they run regular open days so do go and have a look at the good, and very tasty, work they do.

Well rounded framing

roundwood course

Back in early September I had the pleasure of attending a roundwood timber framing course led by woodsman Adrian Leaman. Adrian works near Stroud, Gloucester on a woodyard within the beautiful setting of the Duchy farm there. You may have heard of him through his work with Ben Law and Kevin Macleod and “that” episode of Grand Designs, or you may just have heard of him. His courses are held in a fantastic location for discourse and learning on the subject of wood, and on harmony with nature in general. The woodyard gives way to lush pastures (great camping) and forests backing onto fields and fields of clover to keep all the bees happy.

Most of the people on course were drawn to Adrian’s course (other roundward framing courses are available) with the sense that, whilst it may be a bit harder to get to, the structure promised to be very hands-on and intense, but with the definite potential for Serious Fun to be had. None of us were proved wrong with this assumption and personally the experience far exceeded my expectations. I think I should break down the fun into categories to give you some idea of the experience. Not in order of priority, of course:

The food. Oh my goodness the food! I’ve never been vegetarian, and so I never thought I could be vegan for 5 days and actually never want to eat anything different ever. I shouldn’t say this but go for the food if nothing else!

The people. You couldn’t ask for better crowd. Clearly we all shared many common interests as we all had chosen to be there. However, this was just a mutual starting point and it was fascinating to meet people with very different stories and reasons for coming along, some travelling a great distance to attend.

One of the great things about how Adrian runs the course is that come the end of the day he doesn’t disappear. Instead, at the risk of being grilled about timber framing details until midnight, he takes great interest in getting to know all of the people on his course. From obligatory singing of songs around campfire (Adrian’s wife Kath is a musician as well as an excellent cook (see above)), we had the combined jokes, stories, talents of the dozen or so on the course, ending in the showcase that was the “gurning competition”, now surely to be an annual event on the course; you will have us and a curiously shaped framing jig to thank.

The teaching. Many, on hearing that I had been on this course, asked me “what did you build?”, which is a fair question. However, to give a bit of background about the raison d’être of Adrian’s course will help explain why we didn’t build what and why, and what we did build and how. Adrian teaches timber framing for buildings. Buildings are big and take a long time to build. Over a five day course you could not hope to learn how to and build a whole or even part of a timber frame building. Building on a smaller scale would have been one solution, however, a small structure would imply a different design and rationale to a large building, and therefore would not help with the latter. Plenty of people on the course had already, or were wanting to, build a large building so getting this real experience was important.

So we practiced making joints. If that sounds boring and detached from the process of building a real frame, it wasn’t in the slightest. We laid our logs out on a framing bed, just as you would with a real frame. We were working directly alongside others working on the same log, just as you would with a real frame. The only difference was that the lattice of practice logs created couldn’t be called a building in the end. To compliment this process, Adrian ran in-depth consultations on our individual ideas and projects, to help us make the sort of informed decisions necessary to build in this way, and was always happy to try and answer our questions however inchoate. We also investigated an A-frame pre-assembled on site, discussed how all the joints would work together in a building, and practiced raising it at the end.

Doing a number of different joints in round timber requires thought and care, involving lots of tools, special measuring jigs and instruments and new techniques. It would be very easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of information required. However, Adrian’s style of pacing and staging the teaching over the day was pitched so this did not happen, without necessarily sacrificing the speed and intensity of the the course. We were handling the logs and cutting joints from day one, so there were no classroom activities or bookish studying, everything was hands-on.

My personal reasons for attending the course were firstly to learn about the building technique of roundwood framing, so that I could bring that into the practice and be able to design with it. Secondly, as a keen woodworker making small fiddly boxes and the like, I was interested in how working with larger scale and unpredictable timber could loosen me up and show me a very different way of working with timber. What intrigued me was that the standard and precision of marking out joints, and to an extent cutting them, was directly comparable and shared a great deal of the techniques you would use in cabinetry. In fact marking the roundwood joints was at times a sight more involved, and there are very interesting and transferable concepts to cutting straight joints in bendy wood. The final tolerances may be greater, yet the combination of accuracy, discipline and invention is everything you would expect from a professional craft.

No experience is necessary for Adrian’s course, and whatever your skills and wherever you are from you will be catered for royally, and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. As well as roundwood framing, Adrian also teaches roundhouse building and other wood related courses on the same site, all can be booked here:

Hastings Country Park – New Visitor Centre


Cave has been appointed by Hastings Borough Council to work with Groundwork South, the council and the community on a new sustainable, community built visitor centre in Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve. The new facility will educate visitors about this unique part of the Jurassic coastline, it’s geology, flora and fauna and local history. It will be designed to blend into the beautiful natural surroundings and be as sustainable as possible; using locally sourced materials and built by the local community.

We are currently in the community engagement phase of the project and are gathering as much local knowledge, opinions and ideas as we can. Our next community engagement event will be held mid September in Hastings town centre, so watch this space for further details or email Melissa on if you would like more information.

Breathable timber frame construction

I just uploaded some images of one of our finished projects completed last year and beautifully photographed by Bo (thanks Bo!). This project is a timber frame build and this method of construction was chosen not just for it’s sustainable credentials, but because it is also a very affordable way to build. We used all breathable natural materials, the wall spec was lime render on wood fibre insulation over the frame, more wood fibre insulation between the frame (270mm in total) and then clay board internally with a clay plaster and a lime wash to finish.

The beauty of the build was it’s simplicity and the high thermal and acoustic performance, combined with it’s humidity regulating, breathable, mould resistant and anti-bacterial properties. What a great space! See our residential projects page and click on the ‘Breathable timber frame extension, Surbiton’ link to find out more.

Added Eco Value, 5 ways to add value to your property the sustainable way…


As Spring is supposed to be in the air Cave thought we’d take a look at ways to sustainably spruce up our homes and add some all important value at the same time!

Top tip number 1

Small things matter! By making some simple energy-saving improvements, such as installing quality glazing, adding thermostats to radiators, install water saving measures and eliminating drafts can really make a difference to how comfortable your home feels to you and prospective house buyers, as well as looking great with some lovely timber double or triple glazed windows! Plastic windows will detract value from your home as well as having a negative impact on the environment.

Top tip number 2

While it’s still around use The Green Deal to add wall and loft insulation as well as get money off a new condensing boiler.

Top tip number 3

Extend! Kitchens really sell houses, if you have space to the rear or side of your property adding some extra area to a kitchen to incorporate some lounge or dining space with a little bit of ‘wow!’ factor can definitely clinch a deal when it comes to selling a property. If the extension is built sustainably with good levels of insulation, daylight and low energy fittings you will be able to make your property stand out from all the rest. You could also add a beautiful living roof to any new flat roofs, which will increase habitat and help to keep you cool in the summer as well as looking fantastic, much better than felt!

Top tip number 4

If you can’t build out then build up! Loft conversions are an obvious way to gain more space if the traditional route of extending on the ground floor isn’t an option for you. If your family is growing, creating an additional bedroom can save you a lot of money compared to moving and will also add value to your property. While you’re in the loft, you could also add a solar collector to heat your hot water or a Solar panel to generate your electricity, something that you and potential buyers can benefit from.

If you do decide to build always use quality contractors, don’t be seduced by a low price! Get references and go to see some finished projects in your neighbourhood, ask friends and neighbours to recommend a good contractor that they have used. Ask! Were they on time? On budget? Tidy and considerate?

Top tip number 5

A great way to not use the earths resources and avoid the cost of building, but still add value if you are selling your property, is to apply for a planning permission. You’ll make money purely by having secured permission to do so: you’ll spend around £2000 on survey, design and planning processing, but you’ll elevate your property into a higher league. It removes a big element of doubt from a buyer’s mind, if they know the council have already said yes to expansion.


A survey by The Clydesdale Bank showed that a third of first-time buyers say they will avoid a property which is not energy efficient. So think about energy efficiency improvements and micro-generation installations as a way of improving the value and saleability of your home – just like loft conversions or laying a new carpet.

Sustainability network SPONGE commissioned a MORI poll on whether sustainable features add value to properties and found:

  • 92% of people are keen to see sustainability features offered on new homes.
  • 64% of people say that some sustainability features should be compulsory.
  • 60% of home owners claim to have installed energy or water saving features since moving into their homes.
  • 45% of people state energy efficiency or water saving features were fairly or overly important when choosing their current home and 73% of people say it’s important for when purchasing a house next time.
  • Two thirds of people are willing to pay a monthly charge for sustainable services (e.g. convenient recycling, car sharing etc.)

Eco-friendly homes bring in a higher value: Eco conscious upgrades have a big return on investment. From water saving plumbing fixtures to tankless hot water heaters, investing in the earth can add value to your home. Choose rapidly renewable resources for finishes like bamboo flooring and opt for systems that save on energy costs. Regardless of the method, green living upgrades are always worth the investment.

Camp Cob Update!


Above you can see the recent developments at camp cob, lots of beautiful new carpentry and some expert cobbing from John and Pascaline!

This year we’re going to be dealing with ‘Clay Mountain’ and yep you guessed it, making more bricks! For all of the many digging fans there will be lots for you to do this year with drainage ditches to be dug and floors to be dug out!

If you’d like to come out with us this year for some messy fun, then these are the dates for 2013 so far (the August and June dates aren’t fixed so they may move around a little depending on people and holidays, etc…):

May 20th – 24th

June 24th – 28th

August 1st -11th

As usual it is free camping on site, with free food and drink in exchange for your cobbing enthusiasm and energy. People are welcome to hitch a lift out and back with us if you want to travel when we travel, or you can make your own way over and back and do a bit of sight seeing while you’re there in the beautiful Loire!

Email us for further info or to let us know you’re coming!

We’re looking forward to seeing you all out there!

Malawi eco-village update

Malawi update

Caves eco village project in Malawi for our clients The Landirani Trust (soon to be renamed African Vision Malawi) has been coming on in leaps and bounds. Last year saw the first three buildings finished on site. The first building being a home for the security guard, the second a home for the project manager, the third pictured above is the Children’s creche and canteen, with indoor classroom/play space, dispensary, store and kitchen. The volunteers on this build got so carried away they even built a playground car out of left over tyres and bamboo which is a great hit with children (and adults!).

All the builds were run as courses led by a professional rammed earth builder with the majority of the labour force being local Malawian volunteers looking to gain a new skill in rammed earth construction.

Since last year Malawi has adopted the Zimbabwe standard which allows for rammed earth buildings to be built for public/community use as well as domestic. This is great news as it means we can promote rammed earth in Malawi as a viable means of construction for all buildings. The Landirani Trust have done a great job in recruiting lots of willing trainees, who now by their third building have learnt lots from their mistakes and are becoming confident rammed earth builders!

The new building about to go on site this year is the library and resource centre, as well as a new head office in Malawis capital Lilongwe. Both projects still need some additional funds so if you’d like to donate please go to The Landirani Trusts website where they will gladly accept your kind donations!