Property: People can live in grass houses
Sunday 16 November 1997
Buildings made out of straw bales are no longer seen as the wacky creations of pastoral dreamers. They have become serious constructions in their own right, from their early manifestations as utilitarian storesheds to today's growing number of full-blown family houses. Straw bales are cheap at pounds 1.50 each, easy for self-builders to use, and are good insulators.
Perhaps the most ambitious bale project yet is in southern Ireland, where a family of four lives in a round, three-storey house - but its location is a closely guarded secret. The plan for another straw house envisaged by architects Jeremy Till and Sarah Wigglesworth is just as impressive, but in a very different way: it is slap bang in the middle of New Labour's heartland - Islington, north London, just off the Caledonian Road, to be exact.
Islington Council has approved plans for their three-bedroom house to be built on a derelict patch of former railway land. Construction is due to start in May next year. Although the couple are building it as a house to live in, at a cost of about pounds 220,000, they are treating it as a research project. As university lecturers in architecture, they want to demonstrate that living an energy-efficient and green lifestyle can be normal - indeed must be so, if the planet is to be self-sustaining.
"We want to get away from the idea that you have to be a back-to-nature dreamer to be environmentally sound," says Mr Till. "There is a middle ground which uses techniques that are appropriate, sometimes quite sophisticated, at other times very simple. To that extent this house is a piece of propaganda."
Walls of straw bales are usually plastered inside and out. But the walls of the planned Islington house will be treated only on the inside, the external face being covered by a translucent rain screen so that the bales remain visible.
The roof is perhaps the most radical aspect of the house. The twine on the straw bales, which will lie over a waterproof timber deck, will be cut so that the straw becomes loose and is left to rot for six months. A thin layer of compost will be spread over the top, and the "hairy roof" will be planted with strawberries.
There will be underfloor heating and windows will be triple-glazed. There is the option of later installing photo-voltaic panels on the roof - a highly efficient form of solar heating. In addition, the couple plan to install composting lavatories.
"Straw, contrary to belief, is one of the safest building materials - it is not highly combustible because the straw is packed so tightly," says Mr Till. "Nor does it attract vermin. It may well be the building material of the future. We hope that with this house we can show that low-energy buildings don't have to be boring."
Life & Style blogs
Guest post by Richard Sexton, business development director of e.surv chartered surveyors
Plus lateral thinking and living on London's waterways
Other popular areas include Didsbury, Clifton in Bristol, central Cambridge and West Bridgford
- 1 Man and woman arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder victim of Woolwich machete attack, named as Drummer Lee Rigby
- 2 'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable': Horrific attack brings terror to London’s streets
- 3 Grace Dent: I’m not sure how these people can avoid being called ‘bigots’. And the more ‘civilised’, the worse they are
- 4 Woolwich murder: They killed, then they performed - these men should be starved of our attention
- 5 Woolwich attack: The EDL will seek to exploit this evil crime for their own evil ends
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.