architecture

Building of the week: the straw bale church

I hadn’t planned to do a series on church buildings, but one has led to another over the last couple of weeks. This week was the Green Church Awards, and among the winners was Holy Trinity Tulse Hill, who took home an award for their church hall project in South London. But it’s not just a church hall. There’s actually a really radical idea behind it, and I’m going to quote the vision in full from the project’s website, wecanbuildourchurch.org.uk:

Our Vision is for a building made out of straw bales – a building that is environmentally friendly, a building that demonstrates good stewardship of the earth, a building in harmony with the earth, a building that will be for the good of the people of Tulse Hill.  That’s the physical outcome we’re looking for, but our vision is much more than that!

Our Vision is of a building process that everyone can be involved in:  a hands-on community build. We plan for young children and Senior Citizens to be contributing side-by-side, learning from each other and taking joy in each others’ company. We plan for as much construction as possible to be done by volunteers within the community – trained and overseen by straw bale specialists.

So our Vision goes beyond the well-being and recreation of local people; our vision extends to training local people, teaching new skills, opening up future employment opportunities, and giving encouragement in a world where there is such weariness and cynicism. And for young and old alike, our vision is one of environmental education for the future.

There isn’t much to see just yet, but if all goes to plan, that space next to the old church will soon host London’s largest straw bale building and the only straw bale church in Europe. It will be built ten bales high on a foundation of dirt-packed tractor tyres. The straw and timber construction will have very low embodied energy, and the roof is made of recycled tiles. Heat pumps and a heat recovery system will provide renewable heat, and with the solar panels on the roof, it will be a true zero carbon building. And it’s got rainwater harvesting as well.

I also love the idea of building with the community, for the community. That strikes me as being particularly unusual, a church taking on a self-build project as a way of building skills, pride and shared ownership of the building.

Work began on site in March, with a team of local volunteers turning out to dig in and test the tractor tyre foundations. The foundations are now well underway, and four local schools are interested in helping with the build. With supervision from straw build specialists, anyone can help stack straw bales. It’s a very democratic form of building, and its fascinating to see it happening in an inner city context. Here’s a video about the project made for Good Money Week recently.

2 comments

  1. I’ve come across straw bale construction here and there… and interesting idea. Of course there’s compacted earth and the traditional Adobe… All worthy alternatives.

    Thanks for sharing.

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