Natural Building, a 900 Year Story of Natural Materials.



If you ever doubted the use of natural materials to build a home these nine buildings are a testament to its longevity. We'll take you back to the oldest, continuously lived in wooden home in Europe in leaps of 100 years to the 12th century. Between them these homes are built with stone, lime, clay, bamboo, wood, bark, straw, heather, rice starch, cow dung and reed.

Even the straw, as a base coat in a thatch, can and has survived in Britain where there are about 250 examples of the original thatch base coats from the late medieval period (1350-1600).


100 years old


This is the bath house at Noatun Farm in Ovre Pasvik, Norway in the Pasvik nature reserve. This little building was built by Hans Schaanning around 1907. Find out more about the stories old natural buildings tell.

The roof is typical for its period in Norway. It uses turf above a waterproof membrane of birch bark. A roof like this can last around 30 to 40 years. The tree that provides the bark recovers in 10 to 15 years and can then be harvested again.


200 years old


This is a rubble stone lime mortar thatched cottage built in 1811 in Blaise Hamlet near Bristol, England. The cottage, along with the rest of the hamlet, is owned by the UK's National Trust. It was designed by John Nash, a master of the picturesque architectural style and designer of Buckingham Palace.

What's the life of a thatched roof?

That depends on a lot of variables like the pitch of the roof, the thickness of the thatch and its packing density. It also depends on the skill of the thatcher, the climate, the orientation of the house and the surrounding vegetation but not least the quality and type of the thatch material. Reed from well managed reed beds of high quality; harvest timing, cutting, cleaning, dry storage and conditioning all contribute to the reed quality. You can get a complete overview at the National Society of Master Thatchers.


300 years old


This cottage had it tough from time to time. It's Leanach Farmhouse in Culloden, Scotland. It has a rich history that included being used as a field hospital during the Battle of Culloden in 1746 when the cottage was still a teenager.

Over the years the cottage has changed shape but leaving signs of earlier construction like the single cruck frame which survives embedded in the western gable. The eastern gable is a heather turf wall

The roof may have originally been thatched with straw using a clay-thatching technique however straw may have been too valuable to be used for thatch.


400 years old


Tulou have walls of rammed earth several metres thick. They consists of a lower section built from stone blocks held together with lime or clay with rammed earth walls on top. The earth used to build a tulou is mixed with sand, silt from the river, egg white and the starch from sticky rice soup. The walls are re-enforced with horizontal bamboo sticks and built inclined toward the centre so gravity pushes them together. These homes are a UNESCO World Heritage site.


500 years old


There was a time when it was commonplace for builders to leave their mark on the homes they built. This house, built when Henry VIII had just come to the throne of England, features beams that are decoratively carved and engraved with the initials of the owner Thomas Paycocke and his wife Margaret, but there is also an acorn sized face left as a signature by the carver. The impressive green oak framed Tudor house in Essex, England, now belongs to the National Trust and is open to the public:

Window glass 500 years ago was very expensive so a design like this with lots of windows demonstrated the wealth of the owner.


600 years old


This is Alfriston Clergy House English house in Sussex was built by a prosperous farmer in 1350 using only natural materials that have now survived for almost seven centuries. In 1395 it was bought by the church and over 200 years later, around 1600, the house got its first glazed windows.

The house is an oak framed home with wattle and daub infill which is now rendered with lime. It was built as an open hall, with single rooms on two stories either side.

Running along the end of the garden of the clergy house is the Cuckmere River where water reeds grow. It's not surprising then that the house was thatched over the centuries with water reed which still forms the base coat of the thatch.



700 years old


This is a ‘Loft’ from Sondre Tveito in Telemark, Norway which now stands in the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo. The tiny door leads to the ‘Bu’, the ground floor room used for storing food. The upper floor was for unmarried women in the working seasons. The loft has a runic inscription dating the house to 1300.

The detailing around the door, which was influenced by medieval church art, was highly coloured with yellow ochre and rust red pigments traces of which can still be seen. The upper gallery of the loft is lit by three small openings. This would provide the main source of daylight and ventilation to the sleeping area.

You can see a panoramic view of house at the Norwegian Folk Museum


800 years old


This is one of Norway's stave churches. Stave churches are typically some 8m (26ft) tall made entirely from wood without a single nail. They are the most elaborate type of wooden construction found in northern Europe. This one is in Borgund and was built over 800 years ago. You can find out more about this and other stave churches at



900 years old


This is the turf roofed Roykstovan farmhouse at Kirkjubour on the Faroe Islands. It was used as the bishop's residence back to the 12th century. It is the oldest inhabited wooden house in Europe, lived in by the same Faroe family since 1550. Part of the building is a home with other parts on view to the public.



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