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BA (Hons) Architecture

Michael Newman

Michael Newman / Architecture

Hi, my name's Michael Newman and I have just finished a degree in Architecture at Leeds Beckett University. I've lived in North Wales for the past 10 years, where I learned about a Welsh tradition of constructing a house in one night. (In Wales known as ‘Tŷ ûn-nos’ – One Night House). After getting the dissertation brief, I decided to look further into it and discovered that it was quite an interesting and unique topic with a lot of different layers to explore within it.

I managed to search deeper into the history and traditions of Tŷ ûn-nos by looking at archival journals, poems, and Celtic stories, the oldest of which was dated 1804. Doing this I was able to learn that it has an ancient history dating back to the Vikings, but the tradition carried on through different eras and managed to travel to many different areas.

Communities around rural Wales would come together to help construct homeless people's houses using materials of the local area. If they completed this by sunrise with a fire lit, they could claim and keep the small holding with enough land to support it. Centred around the idea of community, the tradition evolved with the people which made me think about using the tradition in the modern world. I also found interesting how changes in society and community has effected architecture in my local area and how architecture can change societies perception of people.

Our perception in the modern age of homelessness is one of discrimination, but the tradition back then was about people joining together to help the homeless at the time.

Knowing there were areas around North Wales that still had standing concepts of Tŷ ûn-nos I decided to travel to 3 different locations to further research my chosen case studies.

It was helpful to get experience by looking at these old structures, there is a lot of history in the layers of revealed stone and that was something I found interesting. They had piled bits of earth and stone together to keep out the elements and at the time this would have been very hard to achieve. I also discovered that areas of “claimed land” used in the tradition can be clearly seen in obscure shapes, rather than linear, organised shapes.

I had also managed to interview Authors, Teachers and local Welsh historians who had verbal history to retell about Tŷ ûn-nos. This discussion both benefited me and the individuals as we could exchange information to bring a more substantial account of the tradition often left through generational folklore.

I discovered that the concept of Tŷ ûn-nos had been “Romanticised” when actual accounts of Tŷ ûn-nos from many sources such as Diarist Ann Lister had described them as “Miserable cottages” or “Semi permanent mud huts”.

We talked a lot about what it would look like in a modern setting and the majority of those interviewed had mentioned how a fast build of at hand materials just to keep out the elements would be the equivalent today.

Basically, a very fast built homeless shelter made from poor quality waste material, good enough to sleep in.

To recreate this simple structure, I applied traditional methods to advertise for labour and material through writing poems as I had found the communities had done in rural Wales when the tradition originated.

Luckily, there were many factories around Leeds that happily donated the materials I needed, as well as a few members of the community that came to help with construction.

We did not use anything electrical because I wanted to keep the construction traditionally built using simple tools such as hammers, saws and nails. In the end we had managed to construct a small shelter after about 2 hours. It was not too difficult and there is probably a lot more additions you could implement to the structure if needed.

The hardest part of the construction was probably collecting the materials due to weight and distance needed to take them.

One of the biggest struggles was that there was not much information about the subject. So other means of research like case studies, interviews and construction were more difficult to achieve, but definitely helped me gain further interest in history of architecture and how we can use these old methods of construction to help people. The project could definitely be taken further and cover a more permanent structure for the homeless, however the biggest lesson I had learned is how we could look at forgotten traditions to answer societies modern issues. I would just like to thank my tutor Carla Molinari and all those involved with the interview and construction process, as well as my partner for starting my interest in Welsh history.

I hope my dissertation can inspire people to find a unique topic to research and use different methods to research further into it.