Grand Designs

I’m a huge fan of the Grand Designs show. The only thing stopping me from building my own architect-designed, avant-garde, leftfield, off-the-wall, out-of-the-box, modern eco-home from innovative materials and using a new twist on traditional building techniques, is money.
Well, that and having seen the crap that people on Grand Designs have to go through.

Kevin McCloud and his knowledgeable, laid-back approach are the cornerstones of the programme, and it’s him that keeps me watching even though sometimes the individuals featured can be a little… dare I say it… pretentious.

Now though come two excellent Grand Designs parody accounts on twitter. Parody accounts can be a bit hit or miss, but these ones are sharp, clever and right on point. If you’re a fan of Kevin and Grand Designs you’ll love them.

Firstly, @KevinMsays which pokes fun at his intro and outro monologues on each show:


and then @grand_designz, which concentrates on the builders themselves, with ever more improbable Guardianista names, bizarre upper-class careers and plans for their dream home:

It’s funny because it’s dangerously accurate.

Loads more enjoyment to be had on those two accounts. Go and have fun.

I could totally be one of these…

Yes, it’s i09’s list of people who live inside water towers. And after this post last week, you’ll all be aware that I would quite like to feature on the list, were it not for the small matter of the R76 million that I’m short of the asking price.

There are some pretty special buildings here too, together with the reminder that if you choose to live in a tower, there are certain logistical issues that you are going to have to deal with:

This brick tower with 64 windows was erected in 1898, and used for seventy years. It was bought by in 1989 by Elspeth Beard from Elspeth Beard Architects and renovated the whole six-level structure.
There are now 88 steps to the kitchen, 116 to the living room and 142 steps to the roof.


I think my favourite is this one from Guildford in the UK:


It’s just stupidly huge and grand – the Victorians certainly liked to celebrated their functional, industrial buildings. I like the school of thought that “it has to be here, we might as well make it look nice”, but to them it was a demonstration of their progress and achievement: a thing of pride. The upshot of this age of narcissism is a huge number of still spectacular, well-built and generally well-preserved industrial buildings across the UK.
Will our current utilities buildings last as long? Will we want them to?
I doubt it.

In this case, the water tank was on the 5th level, and the “external” spiral staircase provided access around the tank to the top of the tower. There’s loads more about this building here and here.

If money and bylaws were no obstruction, which building would you like to convert and live in?

I like this archipelago and this water tower

Firstly, this image of Værøy in Norway. It looks like somewhere I’d like to go.


It turns out that Værøy is the last island in the Lofoten archipelago in Nordland, Norway.
It has a lighthouse and a whirlpool. Yes, really:

The Moskstraumen (whirlpool) is located between the Lofoten Point of Moskenesøya (Moskenes municipality) and Værøy, at the small island of Mosken. It involves strong tidal currents flowing through the shallows between these islands and the Atlantic Ocean and the deep Vestfjorden, creating eddies and whirlpools, the largest one having a diameter of some 40–50 meters (130–160 ft) and inducing surface water ripples up to 1 meter (3 ft 3 in) in amplitude.

And then (in old news for people in the UK), this converted water tower in Kennington, featured on the 100th episode of Grand Designs – which was screened yesterday in South Africa. And I fell in love with it. Just wow.


I know it’s been up for sale for a while, so I don’t know if it’s still available. But the longer it stays on the market, the better, because if I’m honest, I’m struggling with the last little bit of the R75,717,850.00 asking price. *weeps*

A Grand Design

One of my favourite shows back in the UK was Grand Designs and I was therefore delighted to see that it’s made it over here as well – we get it on the BBC Lifestyle channel. OK, so we’re (at least) a couple of years behind the UK, but what we do know doesn’t hurt us and watching people building homes isn’t exactly time sensitive and neither is Kevin McCloud’s insightful and detailed commentary.
We’re in the middle of a Grand Designs Revisited series here at the moment and tonight was one of my favourite episodes from way back when.

The guy building his own house was Ben Law, who works as a woodsman in Sussex. But this was different from most situations in that Ben wasn’t moving from a house to his new-build – he was living in the woods in a tent and a leaky caravan and had been doing so for 10 years. No hot water, no heating. It was – perhaps unsuspectingly – a solitary life. But he was happy with it, which is surely the most important thing.

But time came to build his own place. And being a woodsman and a craftsman, he did most of it himself – from the woods that surrounded him. The basic plan was a timber A-frame and the gaps between the wood was filled in with bales of straw. Add homemade lime mortar and locally-sourced clay and suddenly, a low-tech, green, but very liveable house came together.

But it was a house for one. Which is why I was amazed when they went back and found that not only did he have a wife, he also had a 19 day old son. And then they went back again a few years later and they’d had another kid. The mudbath in front of the newly-built cottage in the photo above had been replaced with a beautiful garden, complete with homemade wooden toys for the kids. Also, a workshop whereby Ben could do stuff with the wood that he harvested from the woods around them.

I was impressed with Ben’s choice of lifestyle. Not because I’d want to live that way, but I had a certain admiration for his abilities, skill and dedication to living his sustainable green life. And I love the way that he connected with the woodland and lived off the land. And I don’t think I was the only one intrigued by the way he did things: now he has books out, he runs courses on woodland management, he sells his products and he even does tours of his house.

All in all, it’s an amazing turnaround for the guy who was living under canvas in all weathers. And there are messages there for everyone. To the big consumers – an example that you actually can live off the land; that traditional methods can still have a place in our modern life. And to the the greenies, a lesson that you can combine being eco-friendly with living in the real world.