i live in a tower house. this is partly my preference, and partly the consequence of the later house that was built on to it having burned down, in 1995. this tower is not a castle, but a fortified dwelling of about 1580 - a time at which the middle ages had ended elsewhere but were still in full swing in ireland.
as the burned house had no insurance, we had to renovate the surviving tower - for £1500. that was £500 to put the water back in. £500 to put the electricity back in. and £500 for the rest.
when i read articles about eco-houses, i am very aware that this house of 1580 was built not with purchased materials, but with the rubble stone harvested from the land in making the fields, and with oak beams from trees felled at the same time. the structure at first looks rough, until you realise that to build in rubble stone is actually much more skilful than to lay concrete blocks or build with cut stone from a quarry.
nothing came from the hardware shops in the town. how do we know ? because there were no hardware shops, and, until another couple of hundred years later - no town.
for furniture i had to salvage rafters and floorboards from the burned out wreck - and make some out of scrap. my bed is a mattress on two pallets. my table top is pine floorboards. my doors are nailed boards. i had no particular carpentry skills. i simply had no option but to buy a box of nails and improvise. most furniture is in essence shelves. a table is a shelf for eating or writing on. a bed is a shelf for sleeping on. a bench is a shelf for sitting on.
great ingenuity is exercised by eco architects to devise technical solutions to problems, some of which have not arisen yet. my circumstances have educated me in a slightly different way : losing all of my most valued possessions, i was forced to see that 80% of all household possessions are for reasons of sentiment, status, decoration, or simple inertia. of the necessary 20% that remain, many can be improvised, if we are prepared to sacrifice the need for a certain style or 'look'.
i also saw that many designs of the eco architects are to find green solutions to living in the same comfort as those who currently consume at unsustainable levels.
my tower house, with its ten foot thick walls - while rough and fairly dark inside - shows that the solutions to 'eco building' have all been found before, and that making furnishings from salvaged materials is not beyond the abilities of the average householder.
after a catastrophic event, in this case a fire - but, say, an earthquake, a nuclear exchange, a flood, a plague, a global computer seizure - people would live for a time in this way. they would improvise with what they had, rather than make elaborate designs for what they would like to have, or to be marketing.
bear that in mind if you happen to get any glossy 'eco house building' coffee table books, this christmas.