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Robert Adam has an astonishingly rose-tinted view of the 'sustainability' of traditional architecture. Until a couple of hundred years ago the only available fuel for heating and cooking was wood, which has now made its way back in fashion as carbonneutral biomass.

The use of wood as a source of energy worked until 1800 or so because the amount of wood that could be gathered from normal countryside-management processes was enough for the small population of the time. It was shipbuilding and iron smelting, not the process of using wood as a source of energy, that denuded this country of its forests.

At that time, wood was burned in open fires of appalling inefficiency, in draughty and ill-insulated buildings which remained desperately cold and unhealthy. Life expectancy was low. In my childhood, just after the war, things had progressed very little. A coal fire, as inefficient as ever, heated the living room and a boiler provided hot water. The rest of the house, built in 1939 but of traditional construction, was freezing in the winter.

I take Adam's point about tall windows, but these surely belong to the Classical tradition enjoyed by the gentry and their servants rather than the peasantry huddling in their vernaculartraditional cottages with poky windows - though if they were really poor they might enjoy the insulation benefits of thatch.

Alan Kennedy, London SW12

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