New Roundwood Buildings, New Media, New Editor - what a week!

Maddy Harland
Tuesday, 7th September 2010

Lots has been happening in the world of permaculture this week - new buildings, new website and a new web editor...

My feet haven't touched the ground in the last few days. On Saturday I went with Ben Law and Tim to launch Ben's new book Roundwood Timber Framing at the Weald and Downland Museum in Sussex. It was the museum's 40th birthday and they put on a great English country fair event with acrobats, vintage cars, horticultural competitions, crafts and of course a presentation and book signings by Ben.

Bobby the Donkey & owner at the Weald & Downland

The Weald and Downland is a fascinating place. It is set in 50 acres of beautiful Sussex countryside is a very special place to wander amongst a fascinating collection of nearly 50 historic buildings dating from the 13th to the 19th century, many with period gardens, together with farm animals, woodland walks and a picturesque lake.

I love listening to Ben talk. There is always something to learn. Ben's been evolving his roundwood framing techniques since he built the Woodland House in 2000. He has developed new ways of pegging the cruck frames, new jointing designs and a whole new form of architecture that uses timbers that are normally pulped for paper or burnt on the fire. His most notable project is the Woodland Classroom here at the Sustainability Centre. It is breathtaking.



Rumsford fireplace set in cordwood wall

What excites me about this building technique is that it builds beautiful structures – small outhouses and shed to larger barns, workshops, houses, even a village shop – from overstood plantations that have been neglected because they have little economic value in conventional forestry. Ben takes crops like Lawson's Cypress have been neglected for 50 years. The trees are slow growing due to overcraowding – their rings are therefore set close together – and they produce long straight but small diameter poles. These are useless to foresters but ideal for roundwood framing.

Ben told the Weald audience that wood used in the round is 100% stronger than when it is milled because the fibres are undisturbed. This means thin poles of chestnut and Lawson's Cypress, for example, can be of equivalent strength to 100 year old oaks needed for milled timber frames after just a few years. In short, we don't need to fell our great oaks for structural timbers, we can make frames out of quick growing Lawson's Cypress or chestnut. This may be critical in 50 - 80 years time in the south of England where a warmer climate will make oak marginal on many soils.

This form of building is also distinctively local. Ben teaches people to build with what they have locally, rather than specify materials from all over the world. Most of his timbers come from no further than 10 miles away. The builders are local too. Someone asked Ben if he would build in Gloucestershire but the whole point is that he trains people in roundwood building so that they can go home and use their local resources. Even more impressive is the fact that these buildings are much cheaper than conventional alternatives. Ben's local shop, the Lodsworth Larder, was built for one third of the cost of a conventional design.

P1020932.JPGBesides hanging out with Tim and Ben I met Kate Mosse who is the author of Labyrinth and Sepulchre and had a fascinating conversation with her about when and how she writes. I like to ask creative people how they work. Kate gets up at 3 am and writes until 6 in the morning. The still of the night is when she is most productive. A little nap in the afternoon helps her keep going. She never writes in the evening. Ben, by contrast, is an 11 - 2 am man. And yes, Kate bought Ben's book and subscribed to the Permaculture!

Having had a great day out I spent Sunday preparing for a big developmental shift at Permanent Publications. Pete Cooper, our digital maestro, is at the final stages of launching a new Green Shopping website. It will be much easier to use, with more detailed descriptions, and will have a cast iron server and the latest secure payment system. You will be able to post reviews and suggestions to us. It will be a far more interactive service and, unlike other more famous online retailers, every penny generated will support permaculture projects, publishing and otherwise. We have been working on this project for a year and it is going live TODAY! Please support us and tell people about this service.




This is also the week that Mark Anslow starts as Permaculture's new online editor. Mark is the former editor at The Ecologist and fell in love with permaculture which is so positive and solution orientated. He says, "I've been a huge fan of Permaculture and Permanent Publications for years, so it's a real honour to be able to join the team and help develop an exciting new world of online content for permaculturalists and environmentalists the across the globe." We invited Mark to join us and bring all of our websites under one roof. You'll see gradual changes as we incorporate our YouTube channel, Permaculture Media, the blogs, special subscribers' offers and of course a regularly updated PM online.


But don't worry, the print version isn't going the way of the Ecologist Magazine. I haven't designed myself out of a job! Many readers tells us they don't want to read online (and some don't even want to have a computer). They love reading PM in the shed or down the allotment. We have no plans to take that pleasure away. We just want to offer you additional bonuses online. PM in print and books like Roundwood Timber Framing will continue to be produced. It's just that we will have links to blogs, film clips (see below), DVDs in production and news under one roof, online.

The ultimate aim is to create a means of sharing information as effectively as possible with as many people as possible in as many countries of the world as we can. What Ben is to woodlands, we want to be to permaculture publishing.