You dream of the day that you can rest your elderly legs, sitting on a well-crafted, oak, rocking chair bouncing gently on the porch of your home of thirty years, looking out onto acres of land where wildlife thrives. Through the window, you cast your gaze upon the home that you have been building for almost half of your life and feel proud. A life spent doing the things that matter to you, slogging through the things that don’t, and finding harmony in life’s simple pleasures. The ground slips and the seasoned foundations begin to sink into the ground. Posts and beams begin to fall from their fixings as your sanctuary crumbles around you. This was never real. Sure, it was peaceful. But you weren’t content here. You wouldn’t be happy in such a lonely place.
On Monday March 13th 2017 I started working at Hill Holt Wood, a social enterprise based in a woodland on the border of Lincolnshire. Hill Holt Wood was established with the intention of proving the potential for a small woodland to become the hub for sustainable, economical and educational activity with a focus on community engagement. In its twenty years of operation, Hill Holt Wood has excelled as a driving force for sustainable living in the local Lincolnshire/Nottinghamshire area. As the latest architectural design intern, I live on site in ‘The Bunkhouse’, a part-timber, part-straw bale structure in the heart of the woods. The building was constructed and adapted by previous design teams as part of their year in industry.
The opportunity to explore my shared passions of sustainable design and off-grid living, in such an experimental and supportive environment is truly a unique experience that can only be underutilised. Despite being a consistent and thorough under-achiever, I have always sought to become the best version of myself. In a conventional architecture practice, I fear I would have diminished into a shadow of what I have been in the past. I am doing work that I love, experiencing new things that both challenge and excite me, living a low-tech and disconnected lifestyle, with the freedom and time to explore passions that I have struggled to fit into the previously express lifestyle.
I find it challenging to explain to people what my job role is. On the contract, it reads ‘Design Intern Ranger’, which, whilst not very catchy, is a pretty good indicator for how peculiar the job requirement actually is. This past week has been pretty archetypical, for example: On Monday I began the final drawings for my first design project to go to build, a scout shelter in Flintham, Nottinghamshire; on Tuesday I visited Westminster for a group discussion and a Q&A with some politicians; on Wednesday I received training on the use of a sawmill, to allow me to mill my own timber for any upcoming projects and bunkhouse renovations; on Thursday I assisted on a straw bale construction workshop that we held for a visiting Wildlife Trust; and on Friday I began drafting the construction drawings for a cordwood shelter in a small woodland in Nottinghamshire.
You climb down from the rattling bus and cross the street, taking shade under the veranda of the shop front opposite as a cyclist comes whizzing past at high speed. The cyclist does not seem to be in a rush, it seems to be merely a playful, competitiveness. Self-improvement is the name of the game afterall. You remember the days that you had lived on the outskirts of the city, back when your legs allowed you to get by on two wheels. Three legs tend to get you by these days, but on the better days the organic two are often sufficient by themselves. At the end of the street you take a left onto a more enclosed avenue, before taking a detour through a small apple orchard. The outline of a long, five-storey building looks over a teenage apple tree sitting at the far end of the plot. You look up to a crooked, circular window on the right-hand edge of the fourth storey. Behind the window’s reflection you can see a youthful smile begin to widen as you wave your hand above your head. A flash of movement behind the window and the smile is gone. You’ll be welcomed by it at the front door in a few moments time. You take a deep breath and inhale the clean air of the metropolis. Your sanctuary is smaller than you once imagined, but it feels like home in the heart of the city.