Straw bale building is ecologically friendly

Ruth Brown

Ruth Brown

With a little help from some of SDSU’s students and the community of Brookings, an unusual new building was built in McCrory Gardens this summer.

Dean Isham, the project coordinator and an associate professor of interior design, and his student volunteers spent their summer putting together a building made of straw bales. Construction of the building began on May 12, and there were approximately 20 volunteers, working in groups of 10, throughout the project.

The funding for the project came from an SDSU grant, the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, the College of Agricultural and Biological Sciences and local businesses. Some of the materials used for construction were also donated by local businesses.

The straw bales themselves act as insulation to the building, Isham explained. The straw itself is not visible; it is covered by a stucco surface. The straw bales provide insulation that is almost three times that of an average American house.

Straw bale buildings have many advantages that benefit the environment. One major benefit is that straw is a rapidly renewable resource, whereas trees can take up to 40 years before they are ready to be harvested. It also requires less heating because of the greater amount of insulation.

“People have been using buildings with straw bales since the 1800s,” Isham said. “They’re used all over the world.” explains that there is enough straw incinerated each year in the U.S. to build 5 million 2,000 square foot homes.

The inside of the building will be furnished with chairs and tables, as well as learning and gardening materials.

The straw bale building also has what is called a “living roof” with plants growing on top of it. The purpose of the living roof is to explore how different plants survive in this climate.

The building is located in McCrory Gardens where it will be used for groups and gatherings. McCrory Gardens plans to host events at the building where children can go to learn about gardening with hands-on activities. The straw bale building may also be reserved for different classes who request it.