Paul Haar is an architect well known for his work on the use of sustainably sourced timber.
His story starts at CERES in East Brunswick, an inner northern suburb of Melbourne. “As an architecture student of the late 1970’s, my final year design project was towards envisioning CERES. I was captivated by some truly inspiring people who wanted to set up a Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (CERES) on what was a municipal tip on the banks of the Merri Creek.”
CERES became a big part of Paul’s life. He was one of CERES’ founding members and like so many people, CERES’ influence has permeated his life. “I came to see that there were more meaningful ways of practising architecture, away from creating monuments, and instead towards building community and caring for the earth via design and building process.”
“I had a new sense of what the work of an architect could be like. This place gave me enough naïve courage to then go live and work with indigenous Australians in East Gippsland (Lake Tyers), Arnhem Land and Far North Queensland, to support them to design and build their own homes in ways that were meaningful to them. We drew on materials from the local bush (mud, stone, anthills, timber and bamboo). There’s a sense of belonging that comes from working on country, in community. It was a wonderful time for me.
“In those younger years, I also had a dream to find a small bare paddock in South Gippsland, as my mum’s family of farmers from Germany and Palestine did on release from country Victorian internment camps after WW2. I wanted to reafforest my patch with indigenous trees and shrubs, to build an off-grid house in wood, and to plant heaps of fruit trees like my grandpa had. This love of trees connected me to my new neighbours. Together we formed Victoria’s first farm tree group the Archies Creek Reafforestation Group. We also had lots of terrific helpers from the city and the country with whom we planted over 400,000 local trees and shrubs up and down the valley in our first 10 years, to create what’s now a fabulous wildlife corridor between Westernport Bay and the Bass Coast. This is what people power can do.”
Through its social enterprise Fair Food, CERES now sells produce that Paul grows on his farm in Gippsland … feijoas, lemons, limes, grapefruit, apples, pears and nashis.
It’s also for CERES, that he had the idea for a further social enterprise Fair Wood. Its aim is that all wood used in Australian homes and gardens be from well-managed sources that don’t “cost the earth”. CERES Fair Wood aims to connect Victorian farm foresters and small sawmillers with local, socially and environmentally conscious consumers. It also educates the community on sourcing ecologically sustainable and ethically sourced timber.
What has Paul learnt from working with timber? “I’ve learnt that it’s a beautiful material to work with, it’s tactile and accessible to everyone’s creative hand. But unfortunately, many people don’t know where their wood comes from. Our common Merbau and Cumaru decking timbers are mostly logged from irreplaceable slow grown tropical rainforests in SE Asia and the Amazon.”
Paul explains the difference between using imported Baltic Pine and local Radiata Pine to frame a home. And he shows how you can identify the age of a tree from the spacing and curvature of growth rings visible in the wood’s end grain. Baltic Pine and Spruce can be from 100-300 year old trees of mixed broadleaf and conifer forests in Russia or the Baltic States. By contrast, Radiata Pine is from 25-35 year old trees grown in local plantations. Unfortunately Baltic Pine and Spruce are now widely used to frame homes in SE Australia whereas Radiata Pine is a more responsible choice.
Words written by Gardening Australia ABC