The British Earth Sheltering Association is a non-profit making organisation aiming to encourage the design and construction of Earth Sheltered Buildings in the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1983 by three architects in Liverpool. Part of the purpose is to keep interested parties aware of what is going on [See our news page]. Most of the techniques are now clearly understood. The literature is huge but mostly American and out of print. Most members have strong associations with other environmental organisations and are taking the `holistic` route. It is felt that the job of promotion is almost complete since the information and ideas are now widely available and the virtues recognised. In practise, sadly, we are still surprised by the number of people starting a project without any fundamental information at all at their fingertips. The misunderstandings are still all too apparent – but there you go – BESA is there to help.
Earth Sheltering basically means covering a building with a layer of earth which acts as a kind of blanket. There are many advantages to the environment by doing this, but there are two major ones. Buildings can be covered in plants, helping to conserve the countryside around, and secondly the earth covering acts as a massive insulator, allowing huge savings in energy.
BESA believes that it is possible to build in harmony with nature in this way – far more than by conventional methods. Why not put warehouses, factories, car parks and offices below ground and put parks and gardens on top? If you are building in the countryside, why not build into a hillside, putting most of the brickwork below ground? If you are developing within a city, why not go down as well as up and why don`t you create parks on top of buildings too? The technology exists. In fact, there are thousands of earth sheltered buildings in America and Europe but very few in Britain. Why? Because until recently, most planners, architects, developers and builders have not been interested.
Earth sheltering may cost a little more initially, but there are big savings in the long term. The easiest method is to build into a hillside, so that three sides and the roof of a building are buried while the fourth side is mostly glass to gain maximum sunlight.
Another approach is to build the rooms of the dwelling around a sunken garden or courtyard. This too maximizes the amount of light coming from above.
The first principle to learn is that going underground DOES NOT mean living in dark, damp or dingy caves. That idea went out with the cave man. In contrast, earth sheltering means using combinations of light, space, vegetation and water to their full advantage, both inside and out. Most importantly earth sheltering means working with nature, either by covering the building in earth, so that the roof can be turned into a garden, or by sinking the main structure below the skyline so that the landscape above is unspoiled.