Strawbale building – 3/4 of the way there

 In Blog, Student Post

Some of the leaves on the oak trees around our home have turned a crispy auburn, so it seems as though autumn has arrived. Sleeping and eating outside everyday, we can notice the change to damper, colder and shorter days with longer shadows. Now, instead of sheltering in the shade, we begin our stretches before work basking in the morning sun like lizards. We’ve been spoiled up until now, I remind myself that I’ve never swam so many times in the English sea, and spent summer completely outdoors, eating delicious meals everyday in the sun minus a few rainy days.

The architects visit

On Monday a few unfamiliar faces appeared in our morning stretching circle, one we knew as Janna, the founder of Grain Architecture, who we often see surveying our progress each month. The other two were Kirsty and Marta who also worked on the drawings of the barn workshops we are building. After introductions they were buddied up with some of the students. This was another week of mostly daubing out, and firming up the walls, a perfect task to teach newbie builders.

I had Janna under my wing, and we started on a wall that hadn’t been touched since the first spray coat. Lots of jabbing hands and stuffing with dry straw, clay slipping and then a matrix coat, I’d done it what felt like a hundred times but it was new to our temporary student who remarked at the level of prepping needed to flatten and make the sturdiest, most beautiful straw bale walls. I was able to hear a preview of some of her principles which was to be shared later to the group and was seriously impressed with Janna’s knowledge and focus on using only ecological materials and designing them into beautiful spaces.

Janna’s Presentation

We had a short presentation by Janna, getting more understanding of the role of an architect, but more importantly what an exclusively eco architect does! Learning that 60% of UK landfill is made up of construction waste, the group felt pleased that the materials we use are compostable or recyclable/recycled and we use as many off-cuts as we possibly can. If you choose first which materials you want to use and design with those limitations in mind from the beginning, compromises can be avoided. It was inspiring to us all and I certainly felt warmed by her enthusiasm to stick by her principles make a place for natural building in the mainstream context.

Prep for finish plaster

The rest of the week was dotted by window reveals being tidied up and all curved with the same gradient, windowsills being installed and more cladding put on the outside. Jodie put in the skirting boards, which was a trickier job than just simply screwing into the wall… as our walls are straw. She had to dig a trench to expose the ladder that the straw bale was attached to and fix baton all around the bottom and use this to fix the skirting boards. We will use this as our plaster stop to create a clean line around the room. Our primary goal was preparing the rooms for the next week of finished plaster.

We had the chocolatey jewellery workshop ceiling plastered by 4 of our crew to admire and inspire. Levels were employed, and taping and sealing the ceiling was a necessary task as we would find out that next week, we would be starting earlier and finishing later so we could get all the plastering completed to meet an important deadline of the electricians second fix. An exciting, exhausting and satisfying week ahead.

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