Slow Food, Slow Buildings

Food and shelter are our most basic needs for survival, but a basic necessity does not have to be dull or boring or humble. It can also be a source of pleasure when produced with skill and care.

What lessons can the construction industry learn from the food industry ?

The slow food movement blends the enjoyment of great food, prepared well, with an awareness of how food is grown, care for the natural environment and the communities that produce it.

Buildings are many things, more than just shelter. They provide homes and places to work. They record the memories of people and events. The construction industry provides work and income to thousands of tradesmen, professionals and financiers. We fill them with technology that delights and entertains us. We touch them, hear them and smell them.

Buildings are all about us, people.

 

Sculpted column at Iona Abbey
The human touch, unexpected and a delight.

 

Are developments within the industry, marginalising people and diminishing our enjoyment of our surroundings and life in general ?

The technology involved in the production of buildings these days is incredible. From the clearing of forests, delivery to logs to sawmills, assembly of closed panels in factories, it is unlikely that modern building components will ever come into contact with a human being. Briefly, for a few seconds, while it is positioned on site and fixed with a nail gun.

 

Wood harvesting in the Highlands
Mechanised wood harvesting in the Highlands

 

Mechanisation and efficiency bring benefits in speed and cost, but remove the human element. Opportunities to interpret and adjust requirements are lost. One size fits all.

The characteristics of landscape, climate and geology are not standardised. Buildings designed for optimum performance in one set of conditions, will struggle when placed in a location that challenges the “norm”. The lack of human interaction, means that opportunities to identify potential problems and make the necessary adjustments are missed.

 

Timber frame panel assembly
Automated timber frame panel assembly

 

To take one example, most heating systems are designed to a standardised model of climatic conditions. To achieve maximum energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions, these are designed to work within fine tolerances. In the Highlands, severe weather is common. Heating systems designed for high levels of energy efficiency may not have enough spare capacity to cope with the high wind speeds and low temperatures of a Highland winter. At times like these, the knowledge and experience of a local engineer is invaluable in understanding the technical challenge and devising a solution that works for each individual.

 

Fast buildings, housing from the production line.
Anywhere, nowhere, housing from the production line.

 

At one time, the building process was very much “hands-on”. From the extraction of raw materials, to the shaping and fitting during construction, the enterprise was guided by many skilled individuals. Each had a role to play in interpreting project requirements, adjusting each component to suite its position and optimise performance using their knowledge, skill and experience. Each building was shaped by many human hands to create an environment made for us.

 

decorative stone window opening in Inverness
Decorative stone window opening in Inverness

 

There is a place for technology, but never forget that buildings are about people. Their comfort, their experience, their sense of place and identity. Whether through feel or look, our experiences, the things we touch and come into contact with, should be shaped by people for people. Taking a view across the whole process from start to finish, it creates a better environment, sustainable communities.

Imperfect but lovingly crafted.

 

MAAC studio are accredited conservation architects working with traditional buildings throughout the North of Scotland.

If you need independent advice give us a call ?