Location: Conwy, North Wales
Timeframe: Built in 2013
Our Involvement: Concept design, Planning, Building regulation and Construction drawings
Construction Method: Loadbearing strawbale
In 2013, we worked with the RSPB to create a new ‘LookOut’ building. Below are excerpts from the blog that was written at the time of construction.
From Part 1 of their RSPB Conwy blog, all about their new ‘LookOut’:
If you’ve visited the reserve over recent weeks, you’ll have seen our new building, The LookOut, emerging from the earth bank next to the Coffee Shop. When it’s finished, we’ll use it for all sorts of events and activities, and it’ll be open to visitors most days to enjoy the wildlife on the lagoon. But this is no ordinary building. If you’ve been following progress on our blog, you’ll know that it’s mostly build of wood, straw and clay. Yesterday, we started with the fun (and messy!) bit. Here’s how we got on.
The timberwork has all been created by a team from Greenbuilt, but the roof and floor insulation and the walls are being built by a team of staff and volunteers. None of us has ever built a straw-bale building before, but we know a woman who has built plenty. Barbara Jones has designed The LookOut and is training us to build it. First up was a safety briefing, to ensure we would be safe and that we wouldn’t damage the building. We had to be very careful to stand only on the beams – if we put a foot through the birch plywood ceiling, we’d wreck it and risk falling through. Read on here.
And here’s an extract and photo from Part 2 of their blog:
The bales were grown in Cheshire and donated to us by The Crown Estate. Each bale had to be ‘dressed’, stamping on it to get rid of any bends that occurred when the machine baled it and making the ends square so that they would fit together. This was the time-consuming bit and resulted in a few ouches as strands of straw went up your fingernails. Then we could get on with building the bales, as you would bricks, so that each overlapped the one below it. Unlike bricks, the bales aren’t all exactly the same size so perhaps it was more like drystone walling, having to find a bale that would be just right. Sometimes we had to split a bale if we needed a smaller piece.
Here’s an extract and photo from Part 3 of their blog:
The next task was to finish the floor. The joiners created a grid of wooden joists that were just the right size for us to stuff sections of straw bales into. Compared to the rest of the straw building, this was pretty easy. Four of us completed it in a few hours, meaning that when you stand in the finished building, there’ll be straw above you, around you and below you, making it lovely and snug in cool weather. The joiners will fix plywood over the straw-fill to complete the floor.
Here’s an extract and photo from Part 4 of their blog:
We completed the base layer of lime in a couple of days, and that gave us a ‘key’ to which we could attach the top layer. While the first layer is ‘smeared’ on, the top layer is thrown. The trick is to mould a little ball of hemp and lime in your hands, as you would a snowball. Then you throw it with enough force to make it stick to the wall, spreading it with the heel of your hand so that it joins up with the pieces of lime that you’ve already done. Sounds simple enough?
Here’s a short video about some of the building process: