Straw in the Wind
The City of London
2023 x ongoing
2024 will see a super low carbon straw pavilion in The City of London flip the traditional story of the three little pigs on its head. The competition-winning temporary events venue, designed in collaboration with Thomas Randall-Page, will demonstrate the structural and environmental properties of straw as a modern construction material. The innovative structure will provide a carbon negative events venue for an extensive curatorial programme of summer evening talks and performances, built in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral,
The winning team includes engineers Buro Happold, The School of Natural Building and Ecococon, as well as Director of London’s Open House Festival Phin Harper who will curate a cultural programme of talks and performances in the pavilion. New Architecture Writers, a design criticism course supporting emerging writings of colour led by Thomas Aquilina and Tom Wilkinson will also occupy the pavilion as a summer residency
Our straw house, with its timber skeleton and recycled raincoat, consists of a single room bounded only by huge thick doors. This soft and quiet box aims to speak to our time, a time when we must change how things are done.
In this time of perpetual crisis we need hope, and in order to build a better world, it must first be imagined through stories told and shared. We propose to host these conversations in an abstract Palladian villa constructed from prefabricated compressed straw panels. The 16 panels surrounding this cruciform hall pivot to create both open and closed conditions.
Since Disney’s 1933 Three Little Pigs, in which the wolf represented the threat of poverty during the great depression of the 30’s in America, straw has been viewed as a low quality and risky material to build a house from. Humble straw strikes the highest possible contrast with the Portland stone of Wren’s Temple Bar and the glass scrolling screens of London’s stock exchange.
In a square close to St Pauls, stands a single column in remembrance of the fires that twice destroyed this area. Well-detailed timber and compressed straw is shown in test after test to outperform many industry standard materials in fire, however, the public perception that these are flammable and unsafe persists. Despite science to the contrary these materials too often fall victim to regulation and misconception, and at what cost to our environment?
Drawing on precedents from Palladian villas, to shrines and Dogon toguna, within this house of straw we will stage a programme of theatrical debates, educational workshops and public performances interrogating questions of domesticity, family life, diasporic identity, the housing crisis and ecological construction. These convivial public events will be structured around the importance of new narratives, fictions and potential futures.
Housing is an enormous theme spanning construction, economics, politics, gender, culture and climate. New Architecture Writers as well as curators, Phin Harper and Smith Mordak, will host a program of workshops and interactive performances around and within the Straw House. Smith Mordak and Phineas Harper will run a 10-part public programme of events that will draw audiences to The Square Mile throughout the summer while unlocking this vast and critical topic.
For the duration of pavilion’s time in The Square Mile, New Architecture Writers (N.A.W.) will use the straw house as a base - a summer house - to conduct weekly their programme, meeting and learning on Wednesday evenings, while also hosting public facing events, drawing a diverse audience to the area.
As writers of diasporic backgrounds, home is a resonant theme for N.A.W. members, raising questions of belonging, migration, and the common mismatch between British housing design guides and the cultural needs of diverse families. Working as a group, N.A.W. members will initially use the house as a space to learn and debate, and then as a platform for staging public events activating the theme of home in relation to under-represented communities.
Every aspect of the pavilion has been planned using circular design principles, with focus on naturally grown materials and waste products. Our primary material, straw, grows widely throughout the UK and is largely an agricultural by-product from cereal crops. When combined with sustainably sourced timber, these two natural materials form the main structural and insulative components of the pavilion. Whilst components such as ballast, steel scaffolding and timber boards, are rented from a hire company. For the roof, we will use post-consumer plastic sheet, reclaimed from lorry siding curtains.
At the end of the Festival, we have two possible afterlifes for the pavilion. First, it could be rebuilt again and again for any number of uses in different locations. Then after their life as a pavilion, the materials would be returned to the open market. We have designed the pavilion to leave materials undamaged, in standard stock sizes, allowing them to be returned to suppliers through buy-back agreements, allowing each component to live-on inside a newly built home. At the end of that building’s life, these parts are broken down, decomposed and returned to the earth, thus completing their natural cycle
Throughout the history of humans building homes, straw, grasses, wicker and thatch have been key materials. Stone ruins will remain in the ground long after they have fallen out of use and provide us with a sense of their important role in architectural history, whereas grown materials will, on abandonment, return to the earth. Grown materials low environmental impact minimises our collective understanding of their vital historical architectural significance, yet this is also their greatest strength, they are materials able to sustain the future rather than destroy it.