Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

AECB Conference 2012

  • 1 Comment

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.

AECB Conference 2012 was held in Goldsmith University's New Academic Building

AECB Conference 2012 was held in Goldsmith’s New Academic Building by Stride Treglown

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.


AECB’s Low Energy Buildings Database

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.


StrawWorks project ‘The Spiral House’ in Ireland - Europe’s first two-storey loadbearing straw building

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.

Straw Bale Construction teaching on site

Straw bale construction teaching on site at Anne Thorne Architects’ Environment Centre

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.

Straw Bale Construction

Straw bale construction on site at Anne Thorne Architects’ Environment Centre

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!


Subscribe to Footprint by email and follow Hattie Hartman on twitter.

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Yes, another great conference, those that don't attend are missing a real treat.

    As far as being likeminded I would say that whilst I don't know anyone there who doesn't accept the reality of climate change, you must have missed the discussions questioning peak oil!!

    Within the AECB there are many different and sometimes conflicting opinions (I'd leave if that wasn't the case) but as AECB conference regular Mark Elton pointed out, the AECB conference is a bullshit free zone. OK, shit happens, but it doesn't usually go unchallenged.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.