[GSBN] Prefab hoe-down

Bob Theis bob at bobtheis.net
Fri Feb 26 12:58:32 CST 2016


Straw bale is indeed a big tent, guys, but what I am pointing out is that prefab straw bale  - as currently practiced  - reduces the size of that tent, with serious implications for wide scale uptake.  

Back to the experience of the 90’s: We had   prospective clients come in who said, “ If  our house could look 300 years old, that would be great. “  And I  chuckled  to myself, “ So you don’t want indoor plumbing or electricity…?”

  But after I‘d heard versions of the same request a dozen times, I wasn’t laughing. These were ordinary folks, not looking to announce how  eco-funky or architecturally fashionable they were, and they saw a potential in straw bale so appealing they were willing to gamble on   a crazy new way of building.  If it was ecological and superinsulative,  fine, but they weren’t in love with the “ idea” of straw bale. They saw a  quality that had huge pull. 

Here was  cultural transforming potential, because emotional pull works a lot faster than “doing the right thing".    But what did  "looking 300 years old”  mean?

My conclusion was that they wanted  walls that weren’t taut and neutral.   And panelization - as currently practiced, again -  strongly incentivizes taut, neutral walls. 

Of course you can ADD texture, color, craft, roundedness, etc.  to a neutral ground, but a veneer rarely  has the appeal of the full depth material . It’s a corrective, and by nature, superficial.  

Everyone has been in  renovated brick buildings where the original plaster  has been  laboriously removed. That labor, I  submit, is powered by the same emotional pull. 

I am NOT saying no one should be living with taut surfaces and sharp corners. Knock yourselves out, modernists. 

 But there is a deep widespread hunger for more intrinsic character than that, and if we lose sight of that in our efforts to bring the costs of straw bale down, we  “mainstream”  the material to its detriment.  








> On Feb 25, 2016, at 9:03 PM, John Swearingen <jswearingen at skillful-means.com> wrote:
> 
> Many years ago, when we were building a strawbale for the Coppolas, Ellie Coppola gave us what has been a great "specification" for our bale/plaster finish--"As fine a finish as you can make it while still being a hand-finish." In other words, strive for excellence in craft.  We've had many clients who love strawbale and also want crisp edges and flat walls, but few of them have been anywhere close to finicky as is often found with drywall houses. 
> 
> We've also had a number of clients who want rounded and softer finishes, and also rougher, natural finishes and textures. I'm at the moment in a coffee shop, and notice a wide variety of textiles draped over my fellow patron's bodies--some rough, some smooth, some tight, some loose. I presume they picked out what they are wearing themselves, and are comfortable in what they're wearing....
> 
> John "I'm Finnish" Souveringen
> 
> 
> 
> On Thu, Feb 25, 2016 at 8:41 PM David Arkin, AIA <david at arkintilt.com <mailto:david at arkintilt.com>> wrote:
> "You can do anything with Straw Bales … except have skinny walls."   ---the inimitable Matts Myhrman
> 
> We've had a good number of clients come to us saying they absolutely love the idea of straw bale walls, but can we please have them be more flat and have squarer corners?  Of course, being the modern-leaning architects that we are, we oblige.  This has led to more folks finding us for this reason, and thus a portfolio of bale projects that largely (but not exclusively) feature more planar walls and sharper corners.  
> 
> 
> 
> Do an image search on Houzz, or Dwell, or (if you dare) Architectural Record Houses.  Rounded up to the nearest 1%, 100% of the images do not feature a curved anything (except maybe an Eames Chair, or a Nelson Bubble Lamp … btw, the house pictured above does have a curved roof).
> 
> Derek makes some excellent points: that organic needn't be lumpy, and prefab needn't be machine square.  
> 
> Straw Building is a big tent, with room for anything except skinny walls (and who knows … that may be coming soon); Pre-Fab may be a good path to bringing straw bale into a new and bigger sector of the mainstream, and when we do there will be that many more people discovering their inner Mickey Mouse kitchen desires when they image search on 'straw bale walls' and get a taste of anything and everything that's possible.  
> 
> 
> David Arkin
> 
> 
> On Feb 25, 2016, at 4:05 PM, Derek Stearns Roff <derek at unm.edu <mailto:derek at unm.edu>> wrote:
> 
>> I appreciate the organic aesthetic and the rounded corners mentioned by Bob Theis and Robert Gay.  I’m curious, though, about how you see the distribution curve of public/client interest, versus amount of organicness.  In New Mexico, where I live, a large percentage of the population appreciates the thick walls and rounded corners of traditional adobe buildings.  Even if they wouldn’t pick that style for their own house, they appreciate the look, and consider it attractive.  Many people that I talk to are thrilled that strawbale walls are even thicker than normal adobe walls.  
>> 
>> However, I see a very quick drop off in appreciation when “organic” moves into “funky”.  At a guess, 90% of the people who like the organic, round look of many adobes and some strawbale houses, would reject the Rachel Shiamh home (Wales) that Robert included in his message.  Elegant curves and gently undulating surfaces have a lot of fans; lumpy and irregular doesn’t.  The dividing line will vary with the individual, but around here, I think the bell curve is pretty steep, and “too organic” has limited appeal.  As for Mickey Mouse’s Kitchen, something fun for Disney World isn’t likely to be a style that many choose for their house.  
>> 
>> Pre-fab strawbale can have curves and organic character.  It would be hard to reach the hobbit and hippie end of the spectrum.  And while I might appreciate those modalities, I don’t think we are dropping off much of the mainstream public, when we accept the range of forms that can be done with pre-fab.  
>> 
>> Derek
>> 
>> Derek Roff
>> derek at unm.edu <mailto:derek at unm.edu>
>> 
>> 
>> 
>> 
>>> On Feb 25, 2016, at 3:19 PM, Bob Theis <bob at bobtheis.net <mailto:bob at bobtheis.net>> wrote:
>>> 
>>> Chris, 
>>> 
>>> I am not at all surprised at the extent to which we agree. Seeing pictures of that first bale house of yours made it quite clear that you were okay with  walls that were not stiff  and straight! 
>>> 
>>> And I absolutely agree that making  low carbon buildings commonly available by reducing their cost is a much  higher priority than  avoiding machined edges. 
>>> 
>>> What I am hoping is that we don’t stop at the current approach  but  find a way to have it both ways:  Let the bale walls remain BALE walls - not wood boxes with bales in them -  AND  get them up and covered faster.  
>>> 
>>> This probably requires a different approach  to aggregating bales , like ….glueing them into a panel?  
>>> 
>>> The point being, there’s an asset to bale walls  - the character we find so appealing  - that we don’t want to lose. 
>>> 
>> 
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