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GSBN:Off The Wall Journal article -- the truth!

On Aug 10, 2006, at 12:40 PM, John Swearingen wrote:

The WSJ article concluded: "'The lessons learned is that with straw
everything has to happen perfectly for it to go right' says Mr.. Smith
architect, no relation to Dan].'But it turned out to be a beautiful

That's an interesting lesson, since in all my years in construction
never known "everything to happen perfectly", and if it did, I
wouldn't have
much to do . . .

The article was the reporter's best attempt to reconcile the fact that
a certain architect  who is not Dan Smith -- and who had prompted the
article in the first place -- had royally screwed up the design.  It
was a classic case of architectural and engineering hubris, and they
made every possible mistake in the book, and even invented some new
ones (despite Sigi Koko's urging them to work with a local (California)
engineer familiar with straw bale.)  The pictures in the article look
nice, but belie the story of incompetence and, when the shit hit the
fan, blame.  I got involved as Rick Green's "expert witness" when they
tried to scapegoat him for all their mistakes, when all he had done was
warn them of potential problems before installing the bales.
Thankfully, the reporter didn't quote me as having said that "they
really screwed the pooch on that one".

(for those of you on the list whose english is maybe not so good,
you'll have to find someone else to translate that expression for you.
This is a family forum, right?)

But the article, overall, does bring up the issue of moving
straw bale to the commercial and large-scale market. Our experience
Presentation Center, which was by the real Dan Smith, was that that
the mind
set of regular commercial builders and subcontractors, very different
custom residential builders, doesn't always lend itself to the
care, and creativity that straw bale construction can demand. This
adult supervision from both the architect and the builder--not just

What's the lesson learned?  I think it might be a good topic for
and here's my two cents worth:

*	From the design point of view, it's important in commercial design
for the architect to bring in experienced contractors and other
(engineers) and get differing opinions and ideas from several, in
order to
select and detail building assemblies and systems.  We tend to all
have our
own pet systems, and the designer needs to do the work to evaluate
system is appropriate for his project.

Right on.  Or, as illustrated and described above -- what happens if
you DON'T do as Balehead suggests.

*	For construction, recognizing that strawbale will be new to most
people on the job, the builder needs to be prepared to offer the
necessary to solve problems, educate subcontractors, and provide an
level of care and vigilance.  This might mean a small extra expense
and some
effort for the builder, but will provide insurance against costly
construction errors, cost overruns, and building failures.

Same comment.

It still ain't rocket science, or even brain surgery.  You CAN do this
home.  But if you invite a bunch of commercial builders to do your
job, you
had better stay on top of it!

John, well-put, and I completely agree.  To my knowledge, every big or
"glam" architectural firm that has so far dabbled in straw bale has
messed it up, typically because they don't get or accept good advice.
Now that we've passed the big fire test (results should be downloadable
by August 25 or so), straw bale is free to enter commercial, retail,
institutional, correctional (!!), and just about any kind of
construction area.

Hold on to your hats, folks.  things might get a bit wild.

Bruce King
Purveyor of fine legal and engineering advice, Christian-pagan music,
and hallucinatory rants