This past weekend Tony Budden from Hemporium invited us over for a personal tour of his newly completed hemp home. His house, which is considered to be the “most sustainable building in Africa”, sits comfortably upon the foot of the mountain range overlooking Noordhoek, Cape Town, with unobstructed views of the wetlands and the beautiful shore line.
Considering the extent to which this building is renowned for its eco-friendliness, we were surprised at its very modern appearance. The two-bedroom house is characteristically sharp-angled, sleek and minimalistic. Nonetheless, the inner-walls are decorated so as to give off an organic feel, with painted walls being contrasted with rough, textured walls, and others that are finished with wood. We noticed a small and precise circular opening in one of the walls, and decided to ask Tony about it. He explained that it was like an eye, giving us a glimpse into what the house is actually made of: layers of hempcrete, hemp insulation and hemp plaster.
The home is said to have anti-bacterial properties due to the fact that the walls are made of hemp – a hollow, organic fibre that allows the walls to breathe, purifying the air. The climate in the house is controlled by a thermostat which operates small motors that automatically open and close the windows. It shuts all the windows when it’s cold outside allowing the well-insulated house to be heated easily using a single panel heater. Similarly when it gets hot, the thermostat will open up certain windows in the house, creating a draft and moving air within, to keep the house cool. This is definitely a smart alternative to regular air conditioning, allowing buildings to be cooled in a more eco-friendly manner.
Before proceeding upstairs, Tony asked us to remove our shoes. We soon discover why our host has introduced this Japanese custom for visitors of the top floor, his office and living area: It is carpeted with a magnificent hemp carpet. Placing our bare feet upon it reminded us how versatile the hemp plant is: whilst sturdy enough to be used as the foundational material for a house, it can also be used to make something very soft and delicate.
Almost all the furniture is made from hemp; everything from the carpets and couches to the lamp shades and duvets. Even the paintings on the walls are painted on hemp canvas. But one of the interior features which we loved the most had to be the shower! The shower was built inside a glass-box, which was attached to the master bedroom upstairs, rendering it suspended off the side of the house. The glass is glazed up to about chest-height so you can watch the sunrise in privacy, whilst washing your hair. I personally prefer this to Richard Branson’s island exposed toilet throne.
Our appreciation of this house, however, extends beyond the mere fact that it is a modern building which is both aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly. The Hemp House constitutes proof of the viability of a brand new concept – that of a home which can be constructed almost entirely from the use of hemp product. Furthermore, the hemp used to build this home was grown in under a year, and the construction of the house itself took only eight months from start to finish. Thus, the hemp house is a standing example of the viability of replacing traditional building materials with hemp, and is a reminder of the amazing benefits which might be gained from a more extensive integration of this amazing product into our personal lives, and society on the whole.
On behalf of Below The Lion, we would like to thank Tony for giving us a personal tour of his home and for his warm hospitality. If anyone has any questions about the house or hemp construction and housing, please feel free to ask in the comments section below!