HISTORIC SURVEY OF STRAW BALE CONSTRUCTION



Construction with straw bales is in full swing. This technique consists of the utilisation of compacted straw bales - obtained directly from farmers - stacked to form a wall and protected by a render. Many variations in construction are practised in Canada, France, Norway, United States, New Zealand, Australia, and Mongolia to name just some countries. More than 400 buildings such as houses, appartments, hotels, government offices, swimming pools, farms and animal shelters have been built. Many of these original contemporary buildings have been owner built with minimal if any regulatory control. Increasingly building regulations which approve the use of straw bale construction have been adopted in many counties of the United States of America eg Tuscon, Arizona. The diffusion of knowledge and information regarding this technology will aid its acceptance and recognition by authorities.



NEBRASKA, USA 1880


Straw bale construction commenced in the Sand Hills region of Nebraska around the middle of the ninteenth century. A lack of convential building materials such as timber in this pioneering prarie region and the sandy soil which was unsuitable for sod (turf/grass) built walls necessitated the use of a locally available and cheap alternative building construction material. The newly invented horse drawn hay baler provide the building blocks and thus was born straw (hay) bale construction. The oldest known building was a classroom in Bayard, Nebraska built around 1886-87.

These buildings were durable and comfortable and straw bale developments continued in this region up to the 1940's when the availability of better known materials halted the use of straw. Around thirty buildings including houses, a church and farm buildings were constructed. Most were built as loadbearing bale structures, some without render. The oldest surviving building from this era is the Fawnlake Ranch Bunkhouse 1914, which is used as a dormitory for farm laborours.



FRANCE 1921


House photo

The first known French straw bale building is the Feuillette Maison (photo opposite), a timber framed house. It was built in 1921 and was proposed as a protoype for postwar (World War 1) reconstruction of farms and peasants houses damaged during the war. The house to this day is in excellent condition with its third owner. The construction technique used in this house was also to be used in the construction of farm buildings for storage or shelter.

In certain regions of France it is traditional to put straw bales on the interior of external walls of barn and pigstys to increase the thermal insulation of the wall.

Sporadic development continued around the world such as a church in Canada at the start of this century. In the the 1920's the Agriculture department of North Dakota, USA, published a series of manuals for the construction of straw bale farm buildings. This initiative permited the diffusion of this technique to many other regions in the United States. In the 1950's a straw bale construction manual was published in Denmark.


Up to this time all the usage of straw bales, came from local experience and was it was unknown to mass audience until relatively recently. In the United States, during the 1970's, Walsh's article in the book "Shelter" and Bainbridge's investigations are notable in commencing an interest in this technique of construction. At the end of the 80's MacDonald and Myhrman popularised straw bale construction.

Independently of these developments a number of individuals constructed buildings or pioneered approaches. In Quebec, Canada, Louis Gagne developed during the 1980's the masonry style technique; a matrix of bales with mortar joints (structure) supporting horizontal and vertical loads.

At the start of 1990 Tapani Marjamaa constructed the first load bearing building in Finland without any previous knowledge of the straw bale movement. Straw bale buildings have been built over the last few years in European countries of Norway, Netherlands, England and Scotland.



FRENCH CONTEMPORARY CONSTRUCTION


In France contemporary straw bale construction dates from 1979 when the CUN de Larzac, a group of anti-war militants built a house near a proposed military reserve. This house was timber framed with an infill of straw bales.

The new era of straw bale building began with the visit to France of Louis Gagné, then his colleague during this epic, Francois Tanguay in 1985, 1987, 1989. Many conferences and workshops that took place during these visits were crucial in the development of straw bale construction in France.

French designers and builders have used with imagination straw, not only for conventional buildings but also to continue the ecologic tradition with inventive and organic forms. Housing, workshops and farm buildings have been constructed. Many of the buildings are grouped near their architects, designers and builders, such as Pascal Thépaut in Brittany (the west), Jean-Luc Thomas in Vosges (the east), Jean-Charles Fabre in Ille de France (the north) and Jean-Pierre Baillon in Var and Jean-Marie Haquette in (the south). There are approximately 30 buildings in France.




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updated March 1998