The straw house from the north of London, by Wigglesworth+Till | Halldóra Arnardóttir – Javier Sánchez Merina

A house, which was thought to be a model of sustainable architecture, has caused uncertainty between local authorities, real-estate agents and architects’ associations. The reason? For having being constructed by materials that contribute unpublished values.

Sarah Wigglesworth y Jeremy Till, arquitectos
Sarah Wigglesworth and Jeremy Till, architects

At the moment of thinking about the housing – study that has been constructed the pair of architects Sarah Wigglesworth and Jeremy Till, inevitably it us comes to the memory those years that we share with them giving project classes in London. As if already Sarah and Jeremy were advancing to his pupils the type of house that they were preparing, one remembers perfectly how they were speaking to his pupils on the need of valuing the most domestic technology. They provoked in the school of architecture an interest to experiment with those materials of construction that do not need energy input during his production and for learning of the traditional technologies to develop environmental sensibilities.

La fachada a la vía del tren está construida con gaviones hormigón reciclado, sacos de arena, y reutilizando viejas traviesas en marcos de ventanas Fotografías Paul Smoothy
The front to the route of the train is constructed by great black-backed gulls recycled concrete, sacks of sand, and re-using naughty old women in frames of windows | Photography: Paul Smoothy

New information in the program.

Between the information of item of the project, a mixture between housing and place of work that was needing two bedrooms, a lounge, a dining room, a library, a study for six architects, a kitchen, and a few bathrooms; also it was considered to be the energy used in the construction and in the maintenance of the house.

The building construction in Europe means 50% of the consumption of global raw material and the production of materials of construction needs 22% of the total energy consumption produced. Furthermore, the building construction also is responsible for 50% of the production of CO2 that so much aggravates the climate change. With this information in the table, Sarah and Jeremy felt obliged to find a model of sustainable housing in an urban environment, beginning for looking for technologies and materials that were reducing the environmental impact in terms of toxicity and of energetic consumption during his production.

The dry watercloset with chamber of compostaje, the solar panels, a fresh pantry with passive ventilation that was constructed following traditional technologies of Mali, or materials as sacks of sand, recycled concrete and textile factories not known till then in the domestic construction, they are examples of the importance started to the recycling and to the energetic saving. In addition, naughty old women of the train re-were in use, one installed a gas boiler of condensation, and two tanks of 3.000 liters were foreseen for the water withdrawal of rain to fill the cisterns of the study and to water the meadow of wild flowers and strawberries reached on the cover.

The house also possessed the support of diverse suppliers of materials, conscious of the great advertising that this project might represent. Already only they could only know the response of the public, supporting the hope of that the use of this “technology of the available thing” there would provoke an environmental raising awareness of the same importance to given pragmatic questions as her of not having leaks.

Primera planta de la Casa de Paja (2001): 1. Callejón 2. Estudio 3. Proyección de gavión 4. Fachada de sacos 5. Fachada acolchada 6. Muro de paja 7. Estar 8. Cocina con fresquera 9. Dormitorio 10. Biblioteca-torre 11. Comedor 12. Ferrocarril
The first plant of the House of Straw (2001): 1. Alley 2. study 3. Projection of great black-backed gull 4. Front of sacks 5. Quilted front 6. Wall of straw 7. Living-room 8. Kitchen with meat-safe 9. Bedroom 10. Library toasts 11. Dining room 12. Railroad

9/10 Stock Orchard Street.

The straw house is placed in Islington’s neighborhood, at the end of an alley, between a row of Victorian houses and a line of the railroad. Determined by the local characteristics and the orientation, the construction adopted form of L, with the study looking at the routes of the train and the housing perpendicular to they.

Already before entering the house, there became to us evident the sensibility of the investigation that these architects have carried out. The front-door grating is a juxtaposition of industrial and natural materials, with branches of willow interwoven in a frame of galvanized steel. The soil of gravel of the porch of entry fuses with the texture of six great black-backed gulls that support the study and that are, simply, the same structures with cages of wire you fill stones so associated with the railings of the rivers.

In the United Kingdom, previous to the tax of spillage of lands, the materials proceeding from demolitions and waste of new constructions were reaching 30 % of the total of residues gathered in dumps and illegal dust-bins. This information led the architects to verifying that the delivery in work of a truck of recycled concrete turns out to be more economic than the transport to dump of a shipment of land.

Of there that were joining in the project a few structures of stuffed great black-backed gulls with fragments of recycled concrete. Though these boxes of wires might be structural and to support too the weight of the study, the worry of the insurance company for the behavior of the wires in case of fire they forced to place a few props of reinforced concrete crossing the center of every great black-backed gull. Between the heads of these props and the base of the study that they support boxes of wharves have been placed to muffle the vibration produced by the trains, at the time that it contributes a soft balancing when they blow of strong winds.

Desde el comedor, que también es la mesa de reuniones del estudio, se enmarca el paso del tren | Fotografías: Paul Smoothy
From the dining room, which also is the table of meetings of the study, the step of the train places | Photography: Paul Smoothy

Sacks of sand.

To live close to a route of the train also implies noise. In search of the efficient acoustic insulating one for the front parallel to the line of the railroad, the architects fixed his attention in an old photography that was showing the large window of a London coffee covered with sacks of sand to be protected from the air German bombardment. This powerful image was interpreted in the House of Straw on having covered the front with stuffed sacks of a mixture of sand, lime and cement, and that are fixed to a frame of wood by clamps of stainless steel. With the time, the burlap of the sack will disintegrate, making exposed the bastard mortar that will guard the form of the sack and the texture of the woven pack-saddle.

The front of the study that looks at the garden has a treatment very different from the previous one, since it is wrapped with a quilted and buttoned fabric that the breezes support in continuous vibration. This original lining consisting of a blanket of glass fiber covered with silicone is, actually, of current use in the oil platforms of the North Sea. Sarah and Jeremy wanted for his study of architecture to use this resistant and economic technology of a domestic way, as if it was a question of a comforter that can be replaced according to the tastes, for reflecting the strong relation between the place of work and his home.

Desde el comedor, que también es la mesa de reuniones del estudio, se enmarca el paso del tren | Fotografías: Paul Smoothy
From the dining room, which also is the table of meetings of the study, the step of the train places | Photography: Paul Smoothy

Matching of straw.

Another investigation that the architects developed proved to use pacas of straw as insulating material to wrap the north front and the block of bedrooms. The benefits of this material are multiple: The pacas are recyclable, dense, easy to raise, economic, with low energy accumulated in his production, beside possessing excellent qualities of insulating thermal. In only three days and a half, a group of friends without experience in the construction helped Sarah Wigglesworth to place 550 pacas of straw of the house.

Though Sarah verified that the pacas might be used structurally, the Company of Ecological Construction warned that it would not grant any economic aid to them of being used as wall of load, since investigations have never been carried out in the United Kingdom on the behavior of this material in conditions of high dampness. On the other hand, the use of pacas is approved by regulations in the United States and supported by a history as material of construction in Germany.

The architects were forced to modify in repeated occasions his project still being sure of his validity. The last motive for which the regulations of building do not contemplate certain technologies and behaviors of unpublished materials owes to an ignorance, the same ignorance that also minimized the real-estate value of the House of Straw. Still with everything, the housing – study of Sarah and Jeremy has constituted an advance in the United Kingdom for being the first house of straw in expiring with the requirements of the regulations and obtaining permission of work. In two years that have passed from his construction, the House of Straw already has received numerous prizes of architecture, ghost in television programs and radius published in press and specialized magazines, and, in addition, trebled his value of market.

La biblioteca en forma de torre provoca una ventilación de aire fresco | Fotografías: Paul Smoothy
The library in the shape of tower provokes a ventilation of fresh air | Photography: Paul Smoothy

Halldóra Arnardóttir + Javier Sánchez Merina
PhD in art History. PhD architect
Murcia. May 2017

Halldóra Arnardóttir – Javier Sánchez Merina

Javier Sánchez Merina es Profesor Titular en la Universidad de Alicante. Anteriormente enseñó en Kingston University London y Carleton University en Ottawa. Sus clases, textos y obra construida buscan establecer relaciones entre la docencia, la investigación y la profesión. En la actualidad participa en el Proyecto de Investigación Europeo sobre Arquitectura Terapéutica.

Halldóra Arnardóttir. Doctora, (The Bartlett, UC London 1999 – homologación UMU 2007), Colaboradora con el Observatorio de Diseño y Arquitectura de Murcia (2008-10), acreditación de la ANECA como Ayudante Doctor (2012) y en la actualidad Coordinadora de Arte y Cultura como Terapia (HUVA) en colaboración con UMU, Profesora Ayudante Doctor (UCAM) y Azrieli Visiting Critic en Carleton University (Ottawa 2012).

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