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Could a nursery rhyme have influenced sustainable materials?

Kris Karslake Kris Karslake 23 Oct 2013

... and this little pig made his house from straw

We’re all familiar with the story of the three little pigs. One made his house of straw, the other of wood and the other of bricks. When the wolf came to eat them, only the brick house kept them safe. But has this image of bricks being better than straw and wood been ingrained in our culture for too long?

A 1999 MORI Survey found that over 90% of all respondents said “they prefer the advantages offered by a house built using bricks, blocks, and concrete floors”. Maybe the same could be said for owners/occupiers of non-domestic buildings?

Mainstreaming Sustainable Building Projects

This question arose from a “Mainstreaming Sustainable Building Projects” event  I recently attended, organised by the Alliance of Sustainable Building Products and sponsored by Wood for Good.

Tom Woolley, author of the newly released “Low Impact Building”, spoke about ways we can minimise environmental damage as a result of the construction of domestic buildings. Instead of brick, we could use materials and methods such as hemp bonded in concrete (hempcrete), straw bales like those provided by Modcel, or WARMCELL, a material from Excel Fibre technology, that uses cellulose fibres to make products. These products are typically less harmful in production and can perform better during use than some of the traditional building products we predominantly use today. Carleton Community High School (cover picture and below) was the first BAM project to use Hemcrete.

One of the problems...

Natural building products are currently limited to use only in a number of niche markets, such as the ‘iconic’ projects market. Think Grand Designs in the domestic market. But the same is true in non-domestic buildings. BAM’s current development of Somerstown Community Hub in Portsmouth (pictured below), set over a dual carriageway into the city, is certainly iconic with its elliptical laminated timber glulam frame.

But sustainable building projects, with their low impact materials and methods, will not become mainstream if they remain the building choice for iconic projects alone.

Contractors need to learn more about how these products can be used; we need to work with our designers and architects to ensure that sustainable building products are specified, rather than bolted on as an afterthought. We also need our customers to feel comfortable that a building constructed with a sustainable material will perform as well as a ‘traditional’ building product.

Kris Karslake is a Senior Sustainability Advisor at BAM.



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