Straw Bale Comes to Washington!

Straw Bale Construction Comes to Washington D.C.

Joining a summer-long exhibition at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington D.C., Builders Without Borders have created a straw-bale eco-house to demonstrate energy-efficient design and green building techniques. The exhibit will be on display from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, Saturday May 24 -- October 13, 2008.

The U.S. Botanic Garden is producing this exhibition, called “One Planet - Ours!” to showcase earth-friendly techniques and technologies including edible school yards, urban orchards, a solar greenhouse, photovoltaic panels, a vertical wind turbine, green roofs and rainwater harvesting. The USBG is located on the National Mall, across the street from the U.S. Capitol.

The Builders Without Borders exhibit focuses on affordable construction with natural materials, including straw bales, clay, wood and bamboo. Visitors can step inside a small building with walls of stacked straw bales, with a wooden ceiling and wainscoting, finished with clay and lime plasters.

They may also relax under a bamboo shade trellis to view informational panels tracing Americas traditional green-building heritage, from cliff dwellings and adobe pueblos of the Southwest, to an historic straw-bale church still standing strong in the Nebraska sandhills.

Straw bales may be the most economical and ecological material available for construction today. After a cereal grain is harvested, the remaining hollow stalks of straw can be inexpensively baled into super-insulating building blocks, and quickly stacked into walls by a volunteer crew with little or no building experience. Protected with a proper foundation, roof and plaster, bale walls could last a century or longer, providing an attractive and energy-efficient building envelope for human habitation.

BWB will demonstrate this in its USBG exhibit. Visitors will experience the heat and sound insulating qualities of straw-bale walls, and touch attractive plasters of clay and lime. The display will also showcase the versatility of earth as a building material, including seating benches of adobe, cob, and "earthbags."

Based in New Mexico, Builders Without Borders has assembled a building team of experienced natural builders from across America including Athena and Bill Steen of the Canelo Project, Laura Bartels of GreenWeaver Inc, Darrel DeBoer of DeBoer Architects, Steve Kemble and Mollie Curry of Mud Straw Love, Doni Kiffmeyer and Kaki Hunter of OKOKOK Productons and others, aided by Washington D.C. area building professionals. The eco-house exhibit will be taking shape during the month of May, on the east side of the Botanic Garden, at First Street SW.

The dozens of other exhibitors at the U.S. Botanic Garden include the Department of Energy (DOE), National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL), The Nature Conservancy, the American Horticultural Society, the SmartGrowth Network, and many more.

USBG horticulturist and event coordinator Ray Mims says, “Our hope is that this will be a fun, interesting, thought-provoking experience for our visitors. Our goal is to provide the public with take home messages, empower them with knowledge, and motivate them to get involved in some manner.”

The BWB Eco-house team will also offer hands-on workshops during the summer on special Family Days hosted by the USBG. Dates include Saturday June 21, July 19, August 16, and September 27. Kids of all ages will be invited to stack some straw bales and get their hands dirty plastering with mud. Just follow the aroma of cookies baking in a solar oven.

For more information on the One Planet Ours! Exhibition, visit and