Strawbale Meeting Room Is a Testbed for Low Carbon Design

Milk Architecture and Design has built the first strawbale structure in London.

Milk Straw Bale meeting Room

Milk

The building industry faces a daunting challenge if it is going to meet the targets of the Paris Accord, including cutting carbon emissions, both operating and upfront, to zero by 2050. There's a hierarchy, an order they have to follow, as laid out in the recent report by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD):

Strategies
WBCSD

London's Milk Architecture and Design has apparently taken this to heart with their new straw bale meeting room. The firm, which tends to do fancy houses and a restaurant for Treehugger hero Yotam Ottolenghi, built this little garden office shed "to test and gain first-hand knowledge of building with natural building materials."

putting on lime paint
Milk

It certainly meets the criteria of building less, using low-carbon materials, picking a very simple form, and changing construction practices. Straw, in many ways, is the greenest of building materials; it is renewable in a season, insulates well, and is as local as it gets. The architects note that everyone has to gain some knowledge about these techniques:

"We see an urgent need for the whole industry to revaluate our standard practices in the face of climate change. Building with natural building materials offers many huge benefits and we need the mortgage, insurance, architecture, and construction industries to recognise how together we can build better."
installing straw bale
Milk

The architecture firm used a traditional load-bearing straw bale, where the bales are stacked like bricks. Untraditionally, they then use giant ratchet straps running between the base and a ring beam on top to compress the straw.

Interior with model of building
Milk

It's all-natural: just straw, timber, sheep's wool insulation, lime, and Baurwerk lime paint. The design is simple too—"a simple cube with a free-floating metal roof above the straw insulated cube." The roof has deep eaves to keep the water off the walls: "We recommend always having good boots and a good hat as the saying goes to ensure the building is designed for the elements." The boots and hat saying is one I attributed to Martin Rauch with his rammed earth buildings; they can wash away if water gets on them. Strawbale covered with lime plaster is a lot more durable, but it is good practice with any building.

interior of shed
Milk

It's just a tiny office, though probably the first made of strawbale in London. But it is a start of what is a necessary transition from building with stuff that we dig out of the ground to what I have called building out of sunshine, out of materials that we grow.

As Ace McArleton wrote in Green Energy Times a few years ago:

"It is absolutely possible to design, construct, repair, and maintain equally-high performing, energy-efficient, and durable buildings with not only low- or zero-embodied carbon materials, but with materials, that sequester – or store – carbon, giving that building a net-positive carbon footprint. Our buildings then become tools in the project of global drawdown of CO2; they become reservoirs for CO2 and help to reduce and reverse climate change effects."

installing straw bales
Milk

This project was a little testbed for Milk, a bit of fun. But it is something we all have to take very seriously: We have to learn how to design and build with low-carbon materials and technologies, starting today.

View Article Sources
  1. "Net-zero Buildings: Where do we Stand?" World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2021.