Conch Shell House, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Location: Island of Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Date: unknown

Architect: Octavio Ocampo

Purpose: private house, also available for rent

More info: The Conch Shell Hose is said to be the most outstanding and original house in the island of Isla Mujeres. Surrounded by Caribbean Ocean (180 degrees of ocean views from the windows) it gives you an unique opportunity to experience what it’s like living in a Sea Shell. The conch shell house was built using a fairly traditional foundation, such as concrete, as well as recycled and found materials. The owner of the house Octavio Ocampo is a well known artist, whose brother Eduardo is an architect (he also has a house on that island, but a more traditional).

If you enter the house you would be surrounded by a wonderful shell themed interior. The main room has no corners – it is round. The upstairs bathroom sink is made out of the base of a conch shell, the faucets are made out of coral, the towel racks are made from conch shells and other seashells and items found on the local beach.

Some technical info: 2 Bedrooms, Sleeps 4, 5500 sq. ft. , 2 Bathrooms, 1 Half Bath, near the ocean, swimming pool, air-conditioning, internet access.

(Image credits: Mark Stadnik)
(Image credits: Mark Stadnik)
(Image credits: Tim Yates)
(Image credits: Tim Yates)

Low impact woodland house (Wales, UK)

Location: Wales, UK

Date: unknown

Architect: Simon Dale

Purpose: private house

More info: From the author: “You are looking at pictures of a house I built for our family in Wales. It was built by myself and my father in law with help from passers by and visiting friends. 4 months after starting we were moved in and cosy. I estimate 1000-1500 man hours and £3000 put in to this point. Not really so much in house buying terms (roughly £60/sq m excluding labour).”

“The house was built with maximum regard for the environment and by reciprocation gives us a unique opportunity to live close to nature.” he says.

This building is one part of a low-impact or permaculture approach to life. This sort of life is about living in harmony with both the natural world and ourselves, doing things simply and using appropriate levels of technology.

When asked why he is doing this, he gave this answer: “ It’s fun. Living your own life, in your own way is rewarding. Following our dreams keeps our souls alive.”

(image credits: Simon)

Some key points of the design and construction:

  • Dug into hillside for low visual impact and shelter
  • Stone and mud from diggings used for retaining walls, foundations etc.
  • Frame of oak thinnings (spare wood) from surrounding woodland
  • Reciprocal roof rafters are structurally and aesthaetically fantastic and very easy to do
  • Straw bales in floor, walls and roof for super-insulation and easy building
  • Plastic sheet and mud/turf roof for low impact and ease
  • Lime plaster on walls is breathable and low energy to manufacture (compared to cement)
  • Reclaimed (scrap) wood for floors and fittings
  • Anything you could possibly want is in a rubbish pile somewhere (windows, burner, plumbing, wiring…)
  • Woodburner for heating – renewable and locally plentiful
  • Flue goes through big stone/plaster lump to retain and slowly release heat
  • Fridge is cooled by air coming underground through foundations
  • Skylight in roof lets in natural feeling light
  • Solar panels for lighting, music and computing
  • Water by gravity from nearby spring
  • Compost toilet
  • Roof water collects in pond for garden etc.

Main tools used: chainsaw, hammer and 1 inch chisel, little else really. Oh and by the way I am not a builder or carpenter, my experience is only having a go at one similar house 2yrs before and a bit of mucking around inbetween. This kind of building is accessible to anyone. My main relevant skills were being able bodied, having self belief and perseverence and a mate or two to give a lift now and again.