HUT ON STILTS Review
by Nozomi Nakabayashi, Design and Make MArch 2012
12 August 2015
Hooke Park, Dorset
HUT ON STILTS is a hut for a writer, built in a small woodland in Dorset near Hooke Park. The hut sits 4 metres off the ground, elevated on top of 4 tapered stilted legs. But it was not born this way.
The roof of the hut sat hovering 0.25 metres off the ground, looking as though it could float for a good long while.
Some of you who have visited the AA’s rural campus at Hooke Park during 2014 may have noticed a small timber roof structure that seemed to stay unattended by the road, withstanding the rain, the wind and above all, the TIME.
We began the project by dreaming of the hut hanging, floating from the oak trees.
A sketch by Nozomi Nakabayashi
Our untrained enthusiasm and itchy feet prompted our hands to start building the first thing we knew of the project, the ROOF, metaphorically hinting at the completed state of the building by beginning with the element that is physically farthest away from the ground.
Common sense always hits you in hindsight- on every building site, the roof is the last thing to go up; buildings normally emerge from the ground up not from the top down. (Unless it is a catacomb, of course)
In the naïve comfort of moving forward without knowing the destiny of the project, we ordered the timber, and on arrival started prefabricating the roof of the hut at Hooke Park.
Building from Top Down
Day by day, the roof emerged as we cycled up and down through the narrow hedged road of Dorset. I began to wonder, how would I bring the roof to site? Does it fit the width of the road?
We decided to go for a walk, holding a 3.5 metre-long (the widest width of the roof) stick high up in the sky, to trace the steps of the future journey of the roof along the hedged road. Tall Mark, held the stick up horizontally while I, following behind, took photos and made notes on the difficult to fit areas.
“The branch here is too low”
“The bank of the hedge is unraveling onto the road, so the bed of the truck will surely hit this.”
Coming back to Hooke Park from the journey with the stick, we concluded that the 3.5 metre distance was the maximum dimension that the road would allow us to pass.
So we proceeded.
The construction and raising of the Hut on Stilts
Image credit: Nozomi Nakabayashi
On a rainy day, on the back of a trailer bed, the roof was pulled along by a Land Rover. The roof frame reached the site, now closer to its final location amongst the oak trees, ready to receive the ceiling materials and waterproofing membrane.
Another reality check was the weight of the structure; what we imagined to be a light-weight small hut was in reality, with all its hut clothes: the insulation, the membrane, the roofing, floors etc, grew to be 3 tonnes. 3 tonnes of stuff to be raised up in the air! I wearily gazed skyward, wary of the branches and the trunk of the massive oak trees surrounding the roof…
An Axo of the Hut on Stilts by Mark Torrens
The answer was clear; we needed to support the hut so it could stand up and support itself in the air, instead of swinging from the trees. We continued onwards with prefabrication to grow the walls and legs of the roof firmly down into the ground, but eventually all the parts would be need to be raised as one.
All of the building components of the Hut were prefabricated at Hooke Park and brought on-site in mid-July 2014. A log extraction trailer with a crane took all of our telegraph poles (the primary element for the stilt structure) followed by truckloads of cork insulation panels and timber. The site began to grow horizontally, with the hut parts spread out across the grassy field.
The raising day began with the arrival of the 17-metre Merlo Telehandler emerging from the horizon of the hay field in the distance. The telegraph poles were reassembled as frames and raised into place. Wall frames went in, and then finally the roof was propped up at the top.
All the parts eventually found one another, and now stand as one structure in its long waited final location. This marked the beginning of on-site building work.
Building on site without services
The site of the Hut on the Stilts is in a small patch of woodland overlooking the lake in the distance; a beautiful view but a place without electricity. In the height of the summer with long sunny days, the number of Makita batteries dictated the length of our working day.
The first priority was to get the roof insulated. With the memory of the roof hanging from the trees, now it was our turn to hang from the roof. Luckily, the width of the skylight hole was large enough for our bodies to pass through. On a crisp summer morning, we harnessed ourselves in, hanging from the skylight opening, and started to install the cork insulation on the roof. Everything had strings on it, our bodies, the drill, the silicone, the knife, the tape measure, etc. We developed a strange agility as the roofing progressed. With Japanese construction sock shoes, our feet grabbed the roof battens like frog legs.
Building a hut is like being homeless
One morning, I got lost in the thick fog on the way to the site. The field was covered in a milky thick haze, making my hands and face wet from the atmosphere. Holding on to the bag of batteries, I looked for the hut. Familiar trails of my footsteps in the field no longer visible, the only thing I could make out was a herd of brown deer galloping along. I walked along the edge of the bramble bush and slowly, the faraway trees started to reveal themselves in silhouette. Somewhere amongst the haze, I saw the blowing green tarp at the top of the roof of the hut. I found the hut, climbed up the ladder and lit the wood burning stove. Feeling the wet wind come through the not yet finished window opening, I thought:
Building a hut is like being homeless: you experience the leaky roof, the cold wind; you are exposed to the elements. Temporarily without any refuge, you find a shelter to be built.
A construction photo
Image credit: Marco Bencivenga
The hut becomes its own creature
At some point, through the construction period, the hut became its own creature. It was no longer something we were building. It was as though the hut existed before we even started building it. It had its own will and life, growing to show its inherent completion.
On 7 February 2015, the hut was completed with its stilted legs down on the ground. The project was only possible through the support of Hooke Park and its staff, the client, numerous helping hands from volunteer builders and neighbours of Hooke Park. I sincerely thank everyone for supporting this project from beginning to end.
The exterior of the Hut on Stilts
Image credit: Henrietta Williams
For more information:
Design and Make MArch Programme Brief
Design and Make microsite
Hooke Park Microsite