Natural building, mainstreaming straw construction, air tightness and Passivhaus discussed at this year’s conference
Footprint recently attended this year’s AECB conference. Held at Goldsmiths University in London, it was attended by many footprint regulars including Architype, Anne Thorne Architects, Bere Architects, ECD Architects and WARM.
In its twenty-third year, the AECB are still focused on promoting the work of its 1400 members, with further developments in their Low Energy Building Database (LEB). A building performance based record showcasing the work of AECB members, the database enables users to sort and view project data.
The LEB database also carries the AECB Carbonlite Silver Self-Certification system, which is carried out through their low energy building database. The silver standard is aimed at those creating high performance, low energy buildings, but are too constrained for Passivhaus Certification, and allows those carrying out the energy assessment to also self-certify the building.
The two-day conference dealt with a vast array of issues, including the risks of internal wall insulation, thermal imaging, Passivhaus, air tightness, building with straw bales, specifying MVHR, the Green Deal and many more. There was something there for everyone; whether a Passivhaus stalwart or not.
On attending a talk by Barbara Jones of StrawWorks, I was once again inspired by the work that she does and of her ethos; not to work full time and to have a good balance of office and site based practical work. Barbara’s seminar entitled ‘Raising the standard of natural building without compromising on sustainability – 21st century straw bale building’ was an overview of her work with straw and gave an in depth insight into the material.
Barbara spoke of the trials of working on a traditional construction site, believing that straw construction’s lack of mainstream promotion is because it is not a product driven method of building. She believes that the main challenges in getting the mainstream construction industry to accept straw bale building are:
- Straw is a non standard material meaning there are no British standards, no standard sizes and the build often has to be adjusted on site
- It incorporates often new and unusual construction ideas
- There is limited academic research into the use of straw bales
- There is no large profit to be made on straw bales – they are a simple, and widely available material
- The work of StrawWork involves training volunteers on site, and traditional construction sites often do not like the presence of untrained people
StrawWork began working with professional builders in 2005, a process that has been a two-way challenge, especially the notion that volunteers are trained through getting them involved in the build process which throws up health and safety issues from main contractors. But this is exactly what they have done on Anne Thorne Architects’ Haringey Environment Centre, previously featured on Footprint.
StrawWorks have been responsible for the clay, lime, and straw installations on the project. Main contractors, Vinci, found the three months spent working with them a challenge, but by the end even they were keen to work with some of the natural materials again.
As if the challenge of being a woman within a traditionally male-dominated industry wasn’t enough, Barbara is also challenging the way the industry works and the materials used, while maintaining her commendable environmental principles; StrawWorks will not use cement on any project.
She acknowledged that it was ‘challenging for builders to work with them’, but only through engaging the mainstream construction industry with other methods, can we ever hope to have some influence on it and to truly make change happen.
As ever, the AECB conference is a great place to hear from likeminded people, there is no explaining what climate change is, no discussions about whether peak oil really exists, everyone is on the same page. It is an excellent opportunity to learn from each other and to develop ideas of how we build sustainably.
My only problem is that the talks are so good, and it’s impossible to attend them all!