The Second Annual Conference on Gross National Happiness The Second International Conference on Gross National Happiness
Local Pathways to Global Wellbeing
St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada
June 20 to June 24, 2005

June 22 am Workshop Report 2205
Natural Building

Linda Zhu, China
Nawab Ali Khan, Pakistan
Kim Thompson, Canada

Rapporteur: Diederik Prakke
Linda Zhu Straw Bale Housing in China PowerPoint (6.3MB)

Straw Bale Housing in China

Mainstream Practice
  1. Brick construction requires energy
  2. Substandard houses do not protect the inhabitants against cold: Requiring more fuel (of which price has doubled)
  3. Bricks are unsafe with earthquake
Alternative Vision:
  1. Compressed Straw Bale House has a coal (energy) consumption: 60% less
  2. Also cost efficient, less earthquake prone
Key Challenges:
  1. Straw is considered backward technology: Hard to convince people with many doubts
  2. Brick is a symbol of wealth and success: Cultural prevalence hard to change
  3. Low general environmental awareness specially among rural farmers (they consider environmental preservation as government propaganda)
Overcoming Challenges:
Overcoming economy
  1. Provide subsidy and demonstration school
  2. From third project onwards government and residents co-finance (25% farmer contribution). The subsidy convinces the farmers more than the technology
  3. Later dramatic subsidy reduction, as trust was build
Overcoming environmental unawareness through awareness raising among inner-Mongolian resettlers

Additional innovations:
  1. No blue glass window facing the South
  2. Also make middleclass straw houses, so not to stigmatise straw again as low class technology
Lessons Learned:
Remaining challenges:
  1. Lack of industrialised system to supply straw bales (too small demand)
  2. Baling machine is expensive and labour intensive: Individual farmer can't own the machine
  3. No building code: To get drawings approved they check it against brick standard
  4. Brick is not yet banned and still available rurally
  5. Construction season not convenient
Crisis = Danger + Opportunity
Large population is problem and opportunity, China is still more sustainable in ecological footprint, choosing for energy efficiency

See also: Straw Bale Ecological Housing Program in China (104K PDF)
Nawab Ali Khan Integrated Water supply and sanitation Programme (WASEP)

Objective: Reduce diarrhoea death by 50%

Mainstream Practice:
Government is top-down centralised imposing solutions on communities, without participation, undermining sustainability. 80% of schemes failed due to poor O&M. Realised a need for integrated approach, including health and hygiene awareness

Alternative Vision:
6-components together:
  1. Community management, bottom-up. Establish or strengthen including O&M fundraising beforehand
  2. Health and hygiene education, women (community programme with CHIP) and children (schools)
  3. Potable water to door step
  4. Different in-house designs depending on cultural needs
  5. Drainage of waste water
  6. Water quality management (source, storage, household testing)
Covered 87,000 people. From 3% (pre) to 83% (post) WHO water standards of water quality. Diarrhoea dropped by 25-50%

Key Challenges:
  • Funding agencies have their own agenda (while Aga Khan wants integrated holistic approach)
  • Need for cross-disciplinary staff
  • Unstable political and law- and order situation
Kim Thompson Natural Building in Canada

Innovative Practice or Strategy:
  1. Use renewable
  2. Low-tech
  3. Therefore community building: Involving youth and others
Alternative Vision:
  • New range of technology with local resources and low negative impact on the environment. Heating of building is a huge chunk of energy consumption
  • Straw Bale does not need any wooden frames (for strength; just some light frames are put up for the shaping and filling in): Just Straw Bales, can be large and at least two-stories high.
  • All shapes are possible, and all foundations and roofings: Straight, round, etc.
  • Plaster was first cement mortar, but now more and more natural plasters
  • Over twelve years also experience with O&M e.g. with leakage repair, taking out a bale and refixing
  • You can use chainsaws to shape the Bales
  • 'Bales' can be anything, such as beer boxes, earth bags...
  • Options, fun and deep satisfaction to make art on the walls: Putting in colourful stones, clay paints, before coating to make it water tight
  • Thatch (roofing)
Lessons Learned:
Looking at how birds build their nests, we can get so many creative ideas that we can experiment with and implement ourselves.

See also: Rethinking Building - Naturally - with Youth
Q How to do this in urban areas, where people aren't connected to natural materials around?
A Baling cloths and newspaper are there. Else why not get straw bales in: Bring in resources. Natural building started rurally, but you can do it in cities.
Comment Growth and culture
Responses Hopefully exponential growth will take place, get it out of the fringe. Low ecological footprint. Let legislation follow rather than put up barriers.

Different motivations: People in Mongolia want cheap and warm houses, and have slight cultural preferences (but that's not the main thing). So connect to that motivation first; bring in spirituality and ecology later in this case of Mongolia and China.

Benefit to the dweller (in terms of wholesomeness) is as large as the positive impact on the environment.
Q What inspired straw bale building?
A Started very practical: Temporary shelters of new settlers in the new world, then finding out they were lasting. 40 years later people shifted to buying building materials...
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Next: next Workshop Report 2207: Ecological Footprint
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