Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Visions of a straw bale Auction House

GE Sworder & Son Auction House, Essex


Above: Straw bales being put into place to create walls


Above: Sworder's auction house visionary project

Robert Ward-Booth is a partner of GE Sworder & Son, fine art and antique auctioneers, a company founded in 1782 and based in Stansted Mountifitchet in Essex. His vision is to build the largest commercial straw bale building in Europe and the only auctioneer's sales room to be constructed with straw bales in the world. The £1.2 million project to build the new auction room and offices is on time for completion in the spring and is scheduled to hold its first auction in May.

"Whatever we build, we have built for the future," explains Mr Ward-Booth. "It is all about diminishing resources. There is no longer such a thing as cheap energy and it's only going to get worse. We wanted a building that is going to be genuinely sustainable."

The design of the single storey building incorporates straw bales (450mm wide x 350mm high x 1 to 1.1m long) which infill a timber frame. Other sustainable measures within the building include a rainwater catchment system, 4m2 solar water heating panels, a biomass boiler and lime rendered and plastered walls. Another feature that makes the sales room unique is the building technique. "It is what we call a compressive frame, whereby the roof structure is lowered onto the straw walls once all the straw is in place, thus adding the advantages of a load-bearing structure to a framework building," Explains Ms Jones.

In the USA there are about a dozen houses nearing 100 years old that are still inhabited and showing no problems. Mr Ward-Booth is even more optimistic and puts the anticipated age of the new sales room at 150 years. "There are plenty of them about an no evidence of them falling," he adds. When questioned about the safety of the building in terms of fire risk he said "It may seem strange, but when you stack bales up in a wall and plaster them either side, the density of the bales is such that there isn't enough air inside the bales for them to burn," explains Ms Jones.

"Technically we will be self-sufficient in that we will be harvesting all the water that falls on the building" says Mr Ward-Booth. Mr Ward-Booth said that "in terms of cost it works out about £100 a square foot which is about right."

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