For many years, I have spoken about the importance of both sustainability and tradition, and the marriage of the two in cities, towns and villages in a way that reflects a fundamental harmony between human beings and Nature. I have tried to put some of these ideas into practice throughout the Duchy of Cornwall, whether at Poundbury, Newquay or elsewhere.
My Foundation for the Built Environment helps to create places built with an eye to versatility and enduring appeal, where people can walk from their house to the shop to the local school, and where design is rooted in local identity. That such important principles are fundamental to the design of neighbourhoods would seem self-evident, but professionals have not often agreed - at least not at first.
As our planet becomes overwhelmingly urban, and resources become scarcer, it will no longer be enough just to add gadgets on here and put bolt-ons there. We need to rethink the way we plan our homes, shops, schools and their relationship to one another. Such eco-engineering can learn from Nature, from traditional communities and from the best of contemporary technology.
If we are to try to build our communities to improve the lives of inhabitants, then equal emphasis should be placed on the design of homes within these communities and their use of natural resources. Experts have told us for years that homeowners can add various gadgets to make homes more eco-friendly, putting turbines here and perhaps solar panels there - what might be called an “eco bling” approach.
All the evidence I have seen, however, is that it simply doesn’t solve the fundamental problem: the need to build simple, beautiful, efficient homes. Rather than such short-term, technologically driven approaches, why not build homes genuinely designed to demand little or no energy from the outset?
It is with this in mind that my foundation, together with the Building Research Establishment and Kingerlee Homes, has designed the Natural House, which demonstrates the most effective route to low-energy, low-carbon homes designed for longevity and with traditional appeal. It is a project of which I am very proud.
The emphasis is on natural, low-impact materials that perform well together and can be produced in this country. The design builds on traditional approaches, but also employs the best of new technologies, and it will be built on site by local workforces - with the kind of crafts that continue to be taught through my Foundation’s Building Craft Apprentices programme, and that can suit the potential talents of many young people, as I know so well through the work of my Prince’s Trust.
The Natural House uses natural materials, including clay blocks and lime-based plasters, which reduce the risk of poor air quality. A breathable wall system avoids the risk of damp and mould accumulation, a key factor in the development of asthma and respiratory problems. Thus, the design is not only low-carbon, it is also health-promoting.
As of next weekend, a version of the house will be the centrepiece of the Ideal Home Show, in London. I hope people who visit the show will see that eco-homes do not have to be a kind of alien from outer space, but can be beautiful and comfortable places with a sense of identity and belonging. If the British people are to be persuaded that it’s worth living in low-carbon homes, it may be easier if the examples they see don’t necessarily look like spaceships or hermetically sealed boxes.
Such “green” issues are likely to be of growing concern to everyone, not only because of issues of climate change and resource scarcity, but because of economy. Houses that are built upon principles of efficiency and the enhancement of natural daylight and ventilation will help to reduce energy bills.
I am so pleased that my Foundation for the Built Environment has entered into a partnership with the Ideal Home Show, building on the long history of such involvement. I hope those who visit the Ideal Home Show over the next few weeks will see the Natural House and come away with an understanding that truly sustainable homes and neighbourhoods can be pleasant to live in, as well as good for the planet.