Straw Bale Building Resources
By MEA MCNEIL
The community of straw bale enthusiasts (or baleheads, as they call themselves) is vast and passionate. If you’re interested in building your own straw bale home, want to explore a workshop, or just feel like exploring the terrain, here are some of the best places to start.
- David Arkin and Anni Tilt, of Arkin/Tilt Architects in Berkeley, California, are green builders that often choose straw as a material. Their website, arkintilt.com, illustrates many of their commercial, community and residential buildings. Among them is an elegantly designed, off-the-grid, straw bale house, featured in Western Art & Architecture magazine, as well as the winner of Fine Homebuilding magazine’s 2018 Editor’s Choice Award.
- Skillful Means is the Berkeley-based, green design-and-build firm of partners John Swearingen, builder, and Jenna Yu, architect. Their website offers information on some of their 60-plus straw bale buildings, and an HGTV video tour that takes you through one of them in Sonoma, California.
- The Canelo Project in Arizona, founded by Bill and Athena Steen, hosts straw bale building workshops that feature creative plaster sculpturing; and access to the Steens’ book, The Strawbale House.
- The Endeavour Center is a sustainable building school in Ontario, Canada, where Chris Magwood is an inventor, teacher, and prolific writer on the subject of straw bale construction.
- The California Straw Building Association (CASBA) is one of the groups around the world that make up the “strawbale commons,” the open-source sharing that is an important part of the straw bale community. Meetings and workshops are listed at: strawbuilding.org.
- The Development Center for Appropriate Technology, founded by builder David Eisenberg, promotes sustainable construction. The site, dcat.net, offers multiple reports on aspects of straw bale building, particularly code changes, as well as a free download of the book “Build it with Bales, v.2”, by Matts Myhrman and S.O. MacDonald.
- Architect Martin Hammer is involved in international networks of ecological builders who train people in need to house themselves with local materials such as straw. He is co-director of Builders without Borders, and co-founder, with engineer Darcey Donovan, of Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building (PAKSBAB), an organization founded to promote straw bale homes for people in an earthquake zone. To see the dramatic test of a straw bale house on the shake table at the University of Nevada, go to: youtube.com/watch?v=mtV04KAxDco. Hammer also designs straw bale and other ecologically sensitive buildings as a Berkeley architect.
- The Ecological Building Network, founded by structural engineer Bruce King, is an open group of engineers, builders, and architects sharing technological expertise. To see the various tests done on strawbale walls, including the dramatic fire test, go to the network’s website, then to Projects/Research/Strawbale. Each test is a downloadable PDF document. Also check out King’s book “The New Carbon Architecture” (2017).
- Harrison House Music, Arts, and Ecology in Joshua Tree has regular musical programs in its vaulted straw bale building. Eva Soltes, Harrison House’s director, posts a calendar of the facility’s eclectic offerings.
- Modcell Straw Technology, in Bristol, UK, is one of the companies adapting the advantages of straw building to prefabricated walls.
- Hear Frank Meyer’s original song “Straw and Clay” at Solar Haven.