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Houses Made of Straw

Straw is a renewable resource. In fact, we produce 200 million tons of straw that is wasted every year, after the wheat or other grain is removed. A bale of straw costs just a few dollars. Bales are sturdy, thick, and come in uniform size. They make wonderful insulation. Together, this makes it the perfect material for building homes.

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In the story of The Three Little Pigs, a home built of straw was supposed to convey the idea of weak materials and shoddy construction. But it wasn't the material, it was the preparation of the material that was weak. Properly baled straw can be used just like bricks to build a environmentally-friendly home at a fraction of the cost of wood or brick. And you can make a straw home as rustic or as modern as you like.

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Simon Dale built his Low Impact Woodland House in Wales using bales of straw to insulate the floor and create the walls and roof before adding earth to the outside. The finished home looks like a hobbit house! Construction took about four months and cost £3000. The process of building the home is documented in pictures at his site.

Continue reading for more straw homes that may surprise you.

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Steve James is serious about the environment. He built his own home near Dumfries, Scotland out of natural and recycled materials for a total cost of about £4,000. Now he's helping other people learn about alternative building methods.

"Actually, you could make it for less than that," James says. "I'd cut the wood myself next time instead of going to the sawmill. That would knock off a thousand." He finds the whole concept of mortgages quite amusing.

The walls are made of straw bales, and the roof is turf with flowers growing on it. It has a rainwater collection system, a composting toilet, and a woodburning stove. With the help of friends, he built it in about ten months. See more pictures at James' website.

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Glen Hunter built his environmentally-friendly home in Ontario using straw bales, although you'd never guess by looking at it. Architect Paul Dowsett had never done an off-the-grid house before he tackled the Hunter project. It became a throughly modern-looking straw bale home. Features include a solar roof that powers electricity and water heating, a wind turbine on a nearby hill for additional power, and three exterior walls made of straw bales.

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Kara and Dave built a straw bale house that was unveiled in August of 2007. The process of building it is documented in their blog Stonehouse Straw House.

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Straw homes are often personal projects, but they can be mass-produced. First Response Structures has developed a method of building temporary homes for disaster victims out of straw-filled panels. The panels are made of compressed wheat or rice straw covered with recycled paper using no toxins, so that when the shelter is no longer needed, the panels can be disposed of without damaging the environment. See a video of a temporary home construction.

Resources for straw homes:
Straw Bale Construction
Straw Bale Homes
Green Home Building
Ontario Straw Bale Building Coalition
50 Straw Bale House Plans
Straw Buildings of North America

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Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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architecture
Qatar National Library's Panorama-Style Bookshelves Offer Guests Stunning Views
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The newly opened Qatar National Library in the capital city of Doha contains more than 1 million books, some of which date back to the 15th century. Co.Design reports that the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) designed the building so that the texts under its roof are the star attraction.

When guests walk into the library, they're given an eyeful of its collections. The shelves are arranged stadium-style, making it easy to appreciate the sheer number of volumes in the institution's inventory from any spot in the room. Not only is the design photogenic, it's also practical: The shelves, which were built from the same white marble as the floors, are integrated into the building's infrastructure, providing artificial lighting, ventilation, and a book-return system to visitors. The multi-leveled arrangement also gives guests more space to read, browse, and socialize.

"With Qatar National Library, we wanted to express the vitality of the book by creating a design that brings study, research, collaboration, and interaction within the collection itself," OMA writes on its website. "The library is conceived as a single room which houses both people and books."

While most books are on full display, OMA chose a different route for the institution's Heritage Library, which contains many rare, centuries-old texts on Arab-Islamic history. This collection is housed in a sunken space 20 feet below ground level, with beige stone features that stand out from the white marble used elsewhere. Guests need to use a separate entrance to access it, but they can look down at the collection from the ground floor above.

If Qatar is too far of a trip, there are plenty of libraries in the U.S. that are worth a visit. Check out these panoramas of the most stunning examples.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images: Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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After Four Months, a Frank Lloyd Wright House in Glencoe, Illinois Goes Back on the Market

Most architecture nerds would be thrilled to live in an original Frank Lloyd Wright house, and occasionally, they get their chance—as long as they’re willing to pay a few million dollars. As of late 2017, there were Frank Lloyd Wright homes for sale in New York, Minnesota, Ohio, Connecticut, and elsewhere for $1 million dollars or more (in some cases, way more). Sometimes, you can find a deal, though, like the $445,000 Usonian home that went on the market in Michigan in 2016.

Sadly, as Curbed reports, a newly for-sale Wright house in Glencoe, Illinois is not such a deal anymore. Only three months after its $752,000 sale, the 1914 Kier House in suburban Chicago has been renovated and is back on the market for $837,500.

Many Wright homes need a little love after decades of use. For one thing, the architect is somewhat notorious for building leaky roofs. Their small kitchens and shag carpeting are no longer quite so desirable, either.

But for many buyers and architects, restoring a Wright home is a labor of love, one that often takes several years and aims to respect the original designer’s genius while bringing the house up to modern standards. (For some of the historic homes, permanent easements also prohibit most exterior alterations, further limiting what a remodel can involve.)

The Prairie School-style house, though it has Honorary Landmark status, isn’t entirely original to Wright. It has a more modern kitchen, a new family room, and updated bathrooms (with a steam shower!). Previous owner Susan Cowen, who owned the house for a number of years and spent an undisclosed amount on refurbishing it, sold the residence in January to a pair of documentary filmmakers, according to Patch. The sale, which included a significant price drop, only took a few months. They, in turn, made a number of improvements. The owners fixed up the chimneys, boiler, and furnace, added a limestone bar separating the kitchen and dining room, and raised part of the ceiling above the stairs.

Now, four months later, it’s on sale again, and, thanks to the upgrades, a little pricier. The latest sellers may find, though, that not every Wright sale goes as quickly as their purchase. The architect’s homes are highly prized, but also known to be very difficult to sell, sometimes languishing on the market for years before finding a buyer.

[h/t Curbed]

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