2012 International Straw Bale Conference – A Few Thoughts

I had the immense privilege of attending the 2012 International Straw Bale Conference in Estes Park, Colorado in September. This was the first time the straw bale community had met since 2007 and you could tell by the energy that people were ready for this one! The weeklong event was mind-boggling with an average of 18 presentations each day (3 running concurrently in each time slot, giving you that awful “fear of missing out” feeling), along with plenty of hands-on workshops. It was impossible not to be impressed by the depth and breadth of the presenters, many of whom traveled from places like Pakistan, New Zealand, Australia, India, Japan, Germany, England, etc. to be there.

There were a lot of things that stood out for me at that conference but most impressive was the amazing sense of community, cooperation, and collaboration that was held as the highest ideal. One of the presenters said, “We don’t build with straw because we love straw (though some surely do) but because we love the connections made between people and place when we use straw to build homes.” This is certainly why Heather and I do what we do!

Photo courtesy of PAKSBAB

Other highlights included the efforts happening in Pakistan, through PAKSBAB – Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building – where straw bale homes are offering hope, not to mention a superior housing alternative, to those affected by the earthquake in 2005. Martin Hammer, a long-time straw bale builder, has adapted straw bale homes to help the people of Haiti meet their needs for safe, affordable, and healthy shelter. Closer to home I was enamored with the work of David Eisenberg of the Development Center for Appropriate Technology (DCAT) in Tucson, Arizona who has worked tirelessly to bring natural building into the codes, so that you and I can use these techniques to meet our shelter needs. And of course, Bruce King, whose work to prove the efficacy of straw as a building material has helped many people work through the red tape often associated with these sorts of projects. Oh, and you can’t forget Bob Theis, who has worked alongside Christopher Alexander (A Pattern Language), for his contribution to the world of small space design, helping people live better in less space.

And I would be remised if I forgot to mention the great keynote speech by building scientist, John Straube, who’s insights challenged many people’s sentiments that night, while reinforcing the need to think about shelter, and each and every component that goes into making that shelter, in a holistic and even slightly skeptical sort of way. You can listen to part of the keynote address, which I’ve titled “What is Natural Building Anyway” by clicking here.

Finally, I have to mention the straw bale that sat on the cart in the main conference room during the event. It turns out that this was a 100 plus year old bale that came out of one of the original load-bearing straw bale homes in Nebraska. The couple living in the home was adding an extension to the original house, which required them to remove part of the wall. It was clearly an old bale, not all that golden anymore, but remarkably it showed no signs of moisture damage or infestation by insects, rodents, or otherwise. It is a testament to the effectiveness of straw bales for building homes, even way back before people knew anything about building science!

All in all the conference was an amazing and unforgettable experience. I met a lot of new friends there and it feels great to be part of such a loving community of people. And we had some ridiculously fun moments too, including the STRAW BALE OLYPICS (click on the link to see a video). I can’t wait to attend the next conference, even if it takes years to arrive.

With awe and inspiration,

Ashley

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