Below is my blog written during the contruction of our new ecolodge.
This page covers our news from Nov 2018 until 9th March 2019. For later phases:
10th March – April 2019 news this page
May – June 2019 news this page
From Sept 2019 it all got so busy that I limited my record of the changes to this page on Facebook
Our design aims to provide a comfortable, healthy living environment with minimum energy use both during the period of construction and more crucially during the lifetime of the building. It is during its life time that our design will create the greatest saving. Our design obviates the need for heating and air conditioning, lighting during daylight hours and electrically operated fans.
We have been able to minimise the energy used to create the building (embodied energy). Most of the of the materials that we are using are local and hence require little transport. Here are some examples:
1) These materials required very little energy indeed to produce, most energy arising from transport over a short distance:
a) geological resources: aggregates; stone paving; earth quarried from the building site itself or “waste” from a project a kilometre away to make the rammed earth walls.
b) biological resources: used for beams, ceilings and shading (cypress, eucalyptus and “bamboo” – actually Arundo donax).
2) These materials used more energy to produce will only be used where necessary:
a) geological resources which have been processed: cement (which, although it produced locally using lime-rich rocks from the Anti Atlas Mountains, uses huge amounts of energy to produce it) and steel. Both of these are, of course, essential structurally, but we shall use them minimally to meet building regulations eg for ring beams at roof level, for foundations and for rooms with a width over over 4 metres.
b) biological resources: the wood for windows and doors is imported. We will protect the wood by shading and with good quality microporous paint to ensure they last well.
Below is a video showing the builders at work in mid January 2019.
The main focus of the video is rammed earth construction, the method used to built both Taroudant’s Town Walls and massive aqueducts (both built in the late 16th Century) when Taroudant was the capital of Morocco and sugar production from cane was an important local industry; it was even supplied to Queen Elizabeth 1 who would eat no other!
The aqueduct (much still standing) was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The method and material is sustainable – the earth is derived from a local source; it lasts for centuries if it is correctly plastered and the roof top (chapeau) is maintained; it produces comfortable living conditions due to its ability to moderate temperature and humidity inside the building AND it looks and feels so organic, which, of course it is! It uses and helps to sustain centuries-old skills of the local Berbers. We want to be a showcase for these methods which are also viable even in damper climates – old “cob” houses still survive in the British Isles.
With huge thanks to Gwenda Mark for producing the video.
Early February 2019 some more pictures of life on site with visits from very interested parties
Thanks to our driver Rachid and chief guide Said for sending the photos and visiting the building site so often.
“I’m amazed at your progress with new site. Your enthusiasm is infectious. So honoured to witness your vision. You’ve put your heart and soul into it for such a long time. Can’t wait !” Quote from a guest mid January 2019
7/2/19 Electricity & heating is theme for today & tomorrow. I sent the plan for the electrics for the bedrooms because the electrical conduits will be buried in the floors. The electrical wiring will be on a spur system which not only lends itself to the layout of the buildings but also will especially benefit sensitive individuals for whom the strong magnetic fields generated by ring circuits can be a problem.
By the way we shall be using the solar energy to create hot water for the ecolodge, but not for photovoltaics (except for solar lights in the gardens, assuming that we can get good ones. One thing that makes we believe we may get decent ones is that Rachid showed me a photo of photovoltaic lights with PRIs being used as road lights). Why no other photovoltaics? Firstly because our electricity consumption will be low with lots of natural light, no need for reversible air conditioning units because the earth construction, design and materials will keep temperatures comfortable. We use gas for cooking and we now have an EcoPC using only about 10 watts in the office. Secondly Morocco is home to the world’s largest solar PV plant which uses a new highly efficient technologies (both using mirrors: concentrated solar power and parabolic trough), so it’s not worth us generating our own inefficiently.
8/2/19 Today I sent the plan for laying underfloor heating pipes in the small hammam we are building to showcase that solar energy can be used to heat hammams, thus saving precious wood and gas. We will need to ensure that the pipes are very level to ensure there are no airlocks – they will be fixed to the metal reinforcing netting. We talked about which woods to use for the lintels of the doors and windows. I’ve talked to Brian about roof design; we will use Kingspan for roof insulation and will paint the surface of the roofs white to reflect the sun; it reminds me of when I lived in Spain and could not use a single storey room built of concrete with a black roof in summer until we built on top of it.
9/2/19 Flooring is today’s theme: outside we plan to use a local honey-coloured natural stone paving which means minimal fossil fuel energy use in its production and transport. In the bedrooms we will use locally made tiles in darkish colours to absorb heat in the winter when the sun is low in the sky so will stream into the S facing glazed doors and windows; a darkish grey colour to go with the red/orange textiles bedrooms and deep turquoise for the green/grey textiles. In the kitchen we’ll use more expensive glazed non-slip tiles; the staff all like some mid-grey ones that go nicely with a beautiful pinkish-grey granite they have chosen for worktops.
Now the big question: what to use for the 8 metre x 8 metre activity room for yoga, dancing & singing: below I have set out possibilities which I am consulting leaders about; ideally we will use a sprung floor. I had an excellent suggestion that I could raise funds to get the best floor (sprung with a marmoleum or bamboo surface). Of course some people may want to make a straight donation, but for others it could be a loan which would be applied as a discount against a future holiday or some people may want us to donate the money to a Moroccan charity after we have paid for it. The table on the link summarises some options floors
How to make a donation for the dance floor or the trees: please Contact Us with the title “trees” or “dance floor” & we will send details. Thank you!
10/2/19 Upside Down Roofs I have drawn out more details of the roof structure; upside down refers to the fact that the waterproof membrane will be placed under the gravel surface; the main benefit is that the gravel layer above protects the membrane from degradation. The roof surface will be pale. In fact maybe we can use the pale coloured rock slabs that are available in the nearby High Atlas & save using paint. If we do use paint we will use lime wash on the roofs that are not going to be walked on. See update on 18th February
Window & door shapes With the walls of the first pair of bedrooms completed a couple of days ago, we have now begun talking about the wood they will use as lintels as well as exact details of the proportions, size and shape of the windows. They will have wide reveals inside and outside (the latter to accommodate the shutters outside, the former to allow sunlight to stream into a wider area). Our builder says the lintels of the doors should be about 15 cms above the window lintel. Wise words from friend Kath Wilkinson who taught architectural history at Cardiff University until recently on the facades:
Get the proportions right. With the entrance way especially you need a balance between making it look sturdy an ‘serious’ but also welcoming and not fortress like. The balance between strength and gracefulness is what Islamic architecture is good at so it’s a case of working with the shapes you have but trying them out in different proportional relationships to each other.
Another consideration is the 3D geometry: how do we have external shutters as well as the arch in the masonary? By the way for anyone wondering why we are not building 2 storeys, the main reason is that it’s not allowed because it would obscure the historic town walls, the finest in Morocco, which is very sensible. Also it will mean that rooms are easily accessed by all. There will be stairs to the roof terrace for those who want to keep fit!
11/2/19 Gardens We have started to plant bigger trees wherever it won’t be in the way of the builder. The first area was a small olive grove; the second is some olives behind the kitchen in a triangle where Fatima can’t wait to keep some hens – like me, she loves both the birds and their fresh eggs. Next we want to acquire some large date palms which can be easily transplanted when mature because their roots are concentrated in a small area and regenerate readily, especially if the soil is warm and kept moist for the first 6 months. The palms will be planted near the pool for shade and because they don’t shed leaves into the pool. We already have some shrubby palms growing on the site; they have lots of basal shoots so we hope to split them and plant them out. How to make a donation for the dance floor or the trees: please Contact Us with the title “trees” or “dance floor”
I’ve completed a general plan of the gardens split into zones linked to watering regimes, soil thickness, position in relation to buildings and more. Most plants will be chosen to feed people or wildlife, for their scent, their drought resistance and many will be endemic, though we will compromise for other qualities such as being quick growing – luckily many plants thrive in Taroudant because it has the warmest winter of any town in Morocco. For example here are bigger specimens of jacaranda than (according to a specialist) you will see anywhere else in the world. The warmth radiated by the earth walls at night will not only benefit the plants but also our guests!
13/2/19 Ceilings We have been discussing the merits of different materials to make an attractive (pictured below, in bamboo at Claudio Bravo’s palace) for the activity room; either using bamboo (least durable), eucalyptus, split cypress (very durable) or oleander.We decided to use cypress.
The “chapeau” of the outside wall of the plot We have made a decision today to use a simple style to protect the top of the wall from rain, similar to the exterior wall at the Claudio Bravo Palace (below), rather than mimic the castellations of the town walls which we don’t want to detract from.
14/2/19 Guaranteed strength! We have employed a laboratory to run tests on the strength of the concrete and metal in foundations and pillars which are required for the rooms wider than 4 metres (the kitchen, dining room and activity room. We would like to avoid using cement altogether due to its carbon footprint; we are minimising the use of cement by using a lot of pebbles and cobbles within the foundations. Test results were favourable.
15/2/19 Rain forecast! Today reports are that there will be patchy rain tomorrow so the tops of the earth walls had to be protected. We’ll try to get the protective “chapeau” (hat in English) or roofs on them as soon as we can.
17/2/19 Flooring quotes for the activity room & opinions I have received opinions from a number of you – thank you! The most popular surface is either bamboo or marmoleum. I have tracked down suppliers for both. Both are highly sustainable, but when I priced bamboo I learned it was going to be incredibly expensive because Morocco applies:
- 25% duty on imports from China whereas trade with Europe (where marmoleum is produced) is welcomed.
- 12% forest tax on bamboo
So marmoleum it is, already my favourite because of its warmth and choice of a range of fabulous marbled colours (several being appropriate Moroccan names like ” Golden Saffron”, “African Desert” & “Real Sahara”). It is softer than bamboo but still very long lasting. I have it at home & know it can scratch but is easy to sand down and oil to repair. Opinions on colours would be welcomed – I feel sunny colours that go with so many Moroccan carpets would be nice. Here is a link to some Marmoleum colours we might use. In addition the marmoleum supplier understood sprung floors and has produced a quote from a specialist company. Conclusion: we will have a colourful warm marmoleum surface on top of a sprung floor made from eco-certified materials which are free of toxic glues. This floor will be ideal for both yoga and dancing.
18th February Roof design and Insulation I had an informative chat with the technical adviser for Kingspan (who have a plant in Spain) and have recently started supplying insulation panels in Morocco due to increased demand; previously cork was used though generally there is minimal insulation used in roofs in Morocco.
The Spanish product Kingspan Poliuretanos PIR AK recommended has a very high insulation value and should be used beneath a waterproof membrane so we will install these layers from bottom to top: insulation board, EPDM, a ballast of gravel/paviers, whitewash. We will use EPDM which is an extremely durable synthetic rubber roofing membrane which will be held in place by smooth, river-washed stone and, in areas where will need access to solar panels, concrete pavers. These will also protect the membrane from damage from the sun. EPDM is sold in a variety of widths, and in two thicknesses, 45 and 60 mls. We’ll use EPDM to line the pool too – it’s widely used for irrigation ponds in Morocco too. A new Life-Cycle Assessment of the long-term environmental impact of EPDM shows that it performs significantly better than comparable roof assemblies. The surface of the roof will be painted white to reflect the sun’s rays and this help to keep the roof cool.
21st February We now fully understand why some of the local government officials apologised about the rubbish on the site. At some point in the past a pit was dug (probably to obtain building material and this has subsequently been filled with waste). A JCB worked all day to remove and separate this from clean soil and the rubbish has been carted away.
1st March A busy week in Morocco and Wales for a variety of reasons including our dance leader breaking her ankle just before she arrived, so no time for reporting until now. Here is a summary of the week’s progress: we have had over 20 lorry loads of rubbish removed from the site at a cost of about £450! We are extracting good quality earth for building from 2 areas which will become gardens in future. We will fill these 2 quarries with soil that isn’t good for building. The loosened soil will make it easier for water to pass deeper and encourage deep rooting trees.
9th March This week most of the work completed has been a continuation of the methods described above as well as filling the inevitable cracks that develop where the rammed earth sections join; a mix including gravel and lime is used.
Meanwhile a small group of volunteers including myself prepare to travel to Morocco on Tuesday. Our main focus will be the garden design, so we will be starting more cuttings, planting some larger trees, splitting and potting amongst other things.
Design of the towers and arch at the entrance When I studied other examples, it was interesting to notice that the relative size and shape of certain elements was unattractive so we have chosen a design along the lines of one our builder suggested as a model – it was one he had constructed in Taroudant.
10th March Today I have had a fruitful meeting with Brian Mark to discuss a variety of matters including design of windows, shutters, solar chimneys (which are will act as conduits for both light and ventilation in toilets and some of the large rooms, including, of course, the kitchen.
Please Contact Us with any ideas or comments which will be very gratefully received. Thank you for your interest. Jane
For next stages please go to:
10th March – April 2019 news this page
May – June 2019 news this page
From Sept 2019 it all got so busy that I limited my record of the changes to this page on Facebook