[GSBN] Prefab hoe-down

Robert Gay valleymind at earthlink.net
Thu Feb 25 12:26:12 CST 2016

On 2/24/2016 7:59 PM, Bob Theis wrote:
> Chris has been advocating for prefabricating bale walls for so many 
> years, and wondering why the slow uptake of the approach, that he 
>  merits a considered reply from one of the holdouts.
> It’s all  Matts’  and Judy’s fault.   When they gave their first straw 
> bale workshop in California, I had just finished some stud-framed 
>  projects where I was calling for  double stud walls to get some 
> visual weight,  and beating the plasterers over the head to create 
> surfaces and corners that were NOT perfectly straight and flat. I came 
> away saying, “ There must be a way to create thick informal walls 
> that’s intrinsically thick, intrinsically  informal. “ …and I got my 
> answer. Straw bale  was thick , it was informal, and if you wanted 
> perfect surfaces and straight corners that was extra work, instead of 
> extra work to relax them.
> And I wasn’t alone.   When the first bale  project got some publicity, 
> we were getting a LOT of phone calls from people who wanted to know 
> more. This was 1992,  before all the wonderful books, so we’d spend 
> considerable time with these calls, and it was evident that,  while 
> the ecological and superinsulative qualities  gave them /permission 
> /to pursue this offbeat technique, it was the relaxed character of the 
> walls that was the real  pull. The emotional pull.
> Maybe it was our cartoon-based upbringing. Witness Mickey Mouse’s 
> kitchen at Disney World. Try not to barf at the saccharine color 
> scheme, and focus on the room and objects, because this is by folks 
> who know what appeals. The basic geometry is still rectangular, but 
> the hard edges have been taken off.
> So I bow before the success of prefabrication in  reducing  the costs 
> of bale building, but continue to fret about the stiffness that this 
> moves the material toward.  Yes, you can plaster  bale filled panels 
> by hand, and be as informal about the resulting surface  as you care 
> to be, but it is primarily the edges where we read the nature of the 
> walls, and prefabricated panels give you machine-made edges.
> To me, the most sobering,  and challenging,  statement in the bale 
> literature is still the woman who said, “ I wanted a bale house, but 
> what I got is a house with bales in the walls.”
> I’m sure large parts of the population will be perfectly happy with 
> bales in the walls. Especially if it makes the difference between 
> having  a house or not.
>  But it feels like movement in the wrong  direction.
> Bob
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Greetings all, from a GSBN lurker of sorts, a Sonoran-desert friend of 
Matts and David E, in Tucson:

I heartily second Bob Theis's comment about curvature, softness, and 
personality of hand-built bale walls.  In early talks with potential 
bale clients, I always tell 'em that bale walls have personality and 
natural irregularity, and (tactfully) ask if their personality is OK 
with that quality.  This is especially important for the ones who 
haven't been in many -- or any -- bale projects, and simply think bale 
building sounds like a good idea.

(Rachel Shiamh home, Wales)

Bob's remarks touch on a very large, yet generally unarticulated, battle 
in the culture: the efficiency and flatness of machine production vs. 
the eccentricity and variability of making things by hand.  It's the 
battle of organic form-making vs. Cartesian geometry...forms that come 
from VERY local decisions vs. those that "trickle down" from the X and Y 
axes and resulting grid-mind as a way of dividing the world.

Of course Rene Descartes' axes are useful -- as when we want to cut a 
stud to a certain length, for example -- but
(and here comes another rant)
at the large scale, the graph-paper world view has led much land 
division to entirely disregard natural earth-based boundaries such as 
mountain ranges and watersheds.  When surveyors chopped up the world 
into "townships," "sections" and "ranges," then refined it down to acres 
and SQUARE feet, they started placing property lines over landscapes 
that are not at all divided that way.  The result of graph-papering the 
world, I've come to feel, is part of the last couple of centuries' 
alienation of humans from nature, something the early years of the 
bale-building revival helped address.

The two epistemologies -- organic (to use a belabored but also beloved 
word) vs. Cartesian -- can easily be seen in almost all maps of 
political boundaries.  My home state, Arizona, for instance, does have 
the Colorado River as most of its western boundary, but the other 3 
sides are from Descartes.  Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are purely 
Cartesian, and the "Four Corners" monument (which I've stood on) is a 
purely Cartesian land experience.

Interestingly, a few big rivers, and the coasts and Great Lakes force 
the grid-mind to stop. The USGS has this map showing the 2 ways of 
thinking  (http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1768/pp1768.pdf)

No one has a politically viable way to change the state boundaries, but 
we CAN nurture biogeographical awareness whenever possible.  In our own 
little arenas, we can all find our own tiny ways to keep Descartes in 
his place and let systemic, biological, organic understanding grow!

End of rant ~~ thanks for listening.

Robert Gay
Radius Architects
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