An article in the Economist on using straw as a building material drew our attention to Darcey Donovan, pictured above. Formerly of California, Donovan is a structural/mechanical/civil engineer and founder of PAKSBAB (Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building), which promotes straw-bale construction in earthquake-stricken northern Pakistan.
Why straw? In addition to being an excellent insulator,
Straw bale construction...offers numerous benefits, including energy efficiency, the use of natural non-toxic materials, and resistance to earthquakes, fire and pests. However, similar to modern conventional building methods, it typically requires the substantial use of energy intensive and high-cost materials, skilled labor, and complex tools and machinery, making it largely unaffordable for the poor.
In response, PAKSBAB has developed simple, unique, low-cost systems that utilize indigenous renewable materials, local labor, and adapt traditional building techniques. Our houses are up to 80% more energy efficient at about 50% of the cost of conventional earthquake resistant construction.
In the following video, Donovan breaks the process down--and one of her houses, tested in an earthquake simulator by the University of Nevada, doesn't break down.