We have had fun over the last two months watching construction progress on a straw bale house just two blocks south of our office on Main Street in Carbondale. Laura Bartels of GreenWeaver Inc. is building the home and plans to live there with her two boys when the house is completed. Laura is an amazing woman with a long string of accolades and recognitions for her work to improve ideas and practices in sustainable building and living. Laura has provided unlimited opportunities for the community to participate in the process of building her home from the pre-planning phases all the way through construction; this has created a great hands-on learning experience for those fortunate enough to live nearby.
A year ago, our office met with Laura to discuss her plans. It was a stimulating conversation as we brainstormed about the relationship between the building and the site looking at ways to maximize the dialog between the interior and exterior of the house. It’s a small in-fill lot so there’s no space to waste; every square foot counts, inside and out. We talked about how to design the garden so that it satisfies her family needs while still creating an inviting interaction with the community; a design objective that has been important to Laura throughout the process. We had fun thinking about her idea to create storage for infrequently used kitchen items outside reducing the need for heated interior space. And then there are the details, where to locate the clothesline so that it’s functional and more likely to be used, trash collection, recycling, etc.
Two weeks ago, I arranged a field trip to Laura’s house for my son, Ben’s class. As a part of Ben’s curriculum this year, the seventh and eighth graders are designing and building models of a house; for the assignment they have to rely on straw bale construction and the goal is to create a house that is as sustainable as possible. Laura’s project seemed like a perfect opportunity to show them a real life example of the ideas that they will be exploring over the coming months. And Laura graciously agreed to invite thirty, twelve-fourteen year olds into her house and explain the process in a way that would be understandable to them. I loved hearing their thoughtful and inquisitive questions as they listened to her explanations sitting there amongst the straw bales.
So now I have two things to look forward to: the on-going evolution of Laura’s house, I am particularly eager to see the earthen floor during installation and when finished, and the plastering process. And then in the early spring, Ben’s class will have an open house when visitors from the community can see the students’ models and hear from them firsthand about their building designs. Ben is already thoroughly engrossed in the project and has multiple design iterations that he’s working through. As an aside, if you’re interested in modeling a straw bale house, it turns out that sugar cubes are the perfect proportions.