We started our day at the Prince’s Foundation, arriving a little early to get a tour of the building, which used to be a fur factory and now has been converted to house several floors of offices, conference rooms, drawing studios, as well as wood, ceramic and printmaking shops. After the tour, we got on a bus and headed off to BRE Innovation Park, which is a sort of show place for the most cutting edge sustainable and innovative building techniques. There were lots of cool funky futuristic houses to look at, the kind of houses that stick out like a sore thumb on a neighborhood block and look like they cost a fortune to build and another fortune to maintain. The particular house we came to see, however, looked very much like any other house you would see in England, except that is was very unique in the materials it was built with. Our guide, James Hulme of the Prince’s Foundation, explained that they are close to completion on “The Natural House,” which seeks to achieve a low energy, low-carbon building through the use of natural building materials rather than high-tech gadgetry. The use of aerated clay brick, wood fiber insulation, lime plaster, and other relatively inexpensive building materials make for an innovative efficient building that can also be repeated easily, which is the key to its success. The foundation believes that for a building to actually make sense, it has to be something that a developer can afford to build en mass and can find labor that understands how to build it, as well as be attractive to a prospective market. “The Natural House” takes into consideration the modern British sensibility and taste of building design, making it blend in to the neighborhood rather than making it stand out, thereby being something that a developer would actually build in quantity. Anyhow, it was one of the few “Green” buildings I’ve seen that didn’t seem like it would look horribly outdated in ten years, like something out of a Jetsons cartoon. Check out the website for more info.
After we left Innovation Park, we headed over to Oxford where we took a tour of the campus led by Dr. Steven Parissien and Aidan Mortimer. Dr. Parissien is an Oxford graduate and had a wealth on knowledge about the campus, while Mr. Mortimer lent his expertise on the building craft that went into the structures, something he is amply qualified to do since his family originally build much of the University and has continued to build and maintain it since. A few things to note about Oxford: it is old. Lewis Carrol taught there and reportedly got the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland while sitting in one of the Quads and seeing a rabbit squeeze under a fence. There are around 50 different colleges operating under Oxford University. All of them are really hard to get into. Some of the Harry Potter movies are filmed there, but there are no floating candles. There are bicycles everywhere.
A brief explanation of the following photographs: We in the millshop section of the Apprentice Program have our own tradition that has now found its way here to England. We were told at the beginning to document our work, so we have taken many pictures of the things we’ve built. Phung Tran, one of our fine millwork apprentices, would often express his zeal for the craft by sticking his extended pointer finger in every photograph we took to make sure the viewer understood the value of the craft he was having the honor of viewing. Actually, he was just trying to be annoying, but it became so customary, that his finger is in virtually every photograph of everything we have produced in the shop, whether or not he even built it. And so, I give you Phung taking credit for all of Innovation Park and Oxford.
Phung Tran is available for modeling and can be reached on his mobile. His finger, however, is booked solid for two years and won’t even take Spielberg’s calls.