Page B2.1 . 21 January 2004                     
ArchitectureWeek - Building Department
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Building Community with Straw Bales

by Students of Penn State and the University of Washington

Tons of straw are produced each year as a by-product of grain production. Modern wheat farmers burn straw, but for thousands of years straw and other grasses have been valued as a building material around the world, whether thatched into roofs, woven into walls, or mixed with mud to strengthen bricks and stucco.

The Literacy Center at Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, Montana was built using bales of straw as the primary insulation and structural component of the walls. This method of construction, known as "Nebraska style" or structural straw bale, has its roots in houses built by settlers of the American Midwest in the late 19th century. Some of these houses still exist, and are occupied, more than 100 years after they were built.

In addition to the environmental and economic benefits of straw bale construction, the simplicity with which the walls are built allows workers with little or no experience to play a meaningful role.

A yearlong course sponsored by the University of Washington (UW) and the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) pivots on a summer design-build program. Faculty and students are joined on tribal lands by alumni practitioners and Northern Cheyenne tribal members in the construction of housing and community facilities.   >>>

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The Literacy Center at Chief Dull Knife College, designed and built of straw bale by students.
Photo: AIHI

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A bed of gravel for the straw bale walls sits on a standard foundation.
Photo: AIHI


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