I wasn’t too ambitious what what I wanted to build.

Designer & Craftsman Garvan de Bruir discusses his experimental Kildare home

Story Highlights
  • “The building uses timber, a natural material, in a very responsible way.”
  • “There is a functionality to it as well as sustainability.”

Designer and craftsman Garvan de Bruir has recently completed building a prototype of his ‘Aviator Haus’ on a site in Kildare. His self-designed and built two-bedroom timber building is constructed on principles of sustainability and efficiency. Garvan used engineering concepts from early timber aircraft to produce a light but strong prefabricated structure, covered by a single curving shell which functions as both a roof and outer walls.

The designer mimicked ideas found in nature – in this case, the shape of a cocoon – for a design which would use a ‘responsible’ amount of timber to create, thus being environmentally sustainable.

The building idea was previously seen at his Leather Atelier in Kildare where some of his workshop buildings include experiments with the same building technique. First a small 180 sq/ft garden office then the 400 sq/ft two storey workshop.

Garvan’s original specialisation was as a craftsman in decorative hardwoods and all timbers. His BA and MA were in Furniture Design which also exposed him to working in Leather for upholstery and many other details within the furniture. Today his brand DE BRUIR is primarily focused on working in leather, handcrafting bags and accessories.

As a designer, the buildings have been his passion project. Mr de Bruir’s workshop was completed in 2008 to experiment with his ideas in curving timber and prefabricated building. The opportunity to revisit building only arose recently when he bought a site to self-build a house.

The concept house is a two bedroom structure of 900 sq/ft. It is made in prefabricated parts to ensure a quick assembly on site. The most important element is the shape. The structures are built on ‘monocoque’ or ‘single shell’ principles. Intended to generate their strength from the curving outer shape.

A thin and lightweight material will become very taut and rigid when it is bent into a curve. In this case, plywood becomes immensely strong as the complete roof unifies into a single seamless curve. The load is distributed evenly across the entire surface.

The tensile surface contrasts with a typical building that is built more in comparison. The walls are thick in order to bear their own load, as well as the load of the pitched roof and transfer it safely to the ground.

The origins…
The Timber Monocoque was most famously used in the WWII fighter plane The deHavilland Mosquito. During the war, primary industrial materials like metal were in short supply. The allies turned to using locally sourced natural timbers and plywood to create the fuselage of the Mosquito and the skills needed to build them could be found in local furniture workshops.

Reverting to a natural material like timber proved to be a huge success for the aircraft. In comparison to metal, the timber was very light yet incredibly strong, and the deHavilland Mosquito became the fastest plane in the Royal Air Force.

The ‘Light but Strong,’ principle are characteristics we seek in our ‘Aviator Haus’. Helping to reduce the material we consume in a building has both ecological and economical benefits.

When it comes to building on site, the plywood prefabricated components are light enough to carry and assemble, the completed curved building is light yet strong. In function, the house is refined down to the essentials. The interior layout is based on a two bed terrace house. Upstairs, the bedrooms are at the front and back to maximise the glazing. With the landing and bathroom in the centre. Downstairs is open plan but could be easily split into an independent kitchen and living room.

As a building prototype, it can definitely be considered a success. The prefab methodology of making the parts in the workshop and assembling onsite worked smoothly.
“The benefits of building with a natural material go beyond its sustainability. The building uses timber, a natural material, in a very responsible way. Visually the interior is very warm,’’ said Garvan de Bruir.

“It’s a modest size house although it is on a large site, I wasn’t too ambitious with what I wanted to build and it doesn’t try to overload the contemporary needs. As a living space, I refined it down to what was necessary to live in.

There is a functionality to it as well as sustainability. I didn’t build bigger than I needed. As this was a concept house, I was very disciplined with the design brief and functionality needed for a home.

“There is a general pay off from being surrounded by warm, natural material and having a lot of the basics done such as maximising on insulation so I’m minimising the amount of heat I need to put into the house,’’ enthused Mr de Bruir.

“It’s definitely a very satisfying space to wake up in,’’ imparted Garvan.

Words: Emer KellyImages: Garvan de Bruir

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