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Building with Straw-Bale in Rome.

In the spring of 2013 Beyond Architecture Groupcompleted the Trizzino House at the Quadraro, in Rome. A complex challenge that required from BAG a constant effort for convincing the client, the building company and the administration of the quality of the project. The Quadraro is a neighborhood naturally inclined towards resistanceand should not be surprisingly to find here the first straw-bale house in Rome, a project that challenges the establishment and the “concrete” lobbies.

This work is the result of a casual meeting between Paolo Robazza, founder of the firm, and Crisitana Trizzino whom, with her family and two children, was considering several options for building her new home. BAG’s proposal disconcerted the client for the unusual building technique. The definition soon appeared on the web – the house of the three little pigs – well clarifies the major concerns of its owner, and generally of anyone who approaches for the first time to these construction techniques, concerns that can be summarized in a few questions: “will it protect us from weather conditions and wind?”, “what is its lifespan?”, “will the straw rot with time?”, “is it structurally stable?”. Paolo Robazza suggested Cristiana Trizzino should go visit Pescomaggiore, in the Abbruzzo, where BAG had recently completed the self-built neighborhood of EVA. The visit was crucial in convincing her of the quality and benefits of this choice.

On the bought land, in via Culumella, there was a building which once hosted the “Galletto” inn, an historic landmark for the Quadraro neighborhood, which ended around thirty years before. Initially BAG proposed a renovation but during the works it became necessary to urgently demolish the building. The re-construction would be made of wood and straw-bale, with cocciopesto floors. After a few months of design, the building yard opened in February 2012.

Building with straw is sustainable and cheap, the technical and energy characteristics of those buildings are higher than those of the traditional green building, and the costs are much lower. There are also other advantages: total absence of moisture – the walls are really transpiring – excellent thermal insulation, possibility of changing the layout of the facilities until almost the end of the yard, ease and rapidity of construction, use of zero kilometer materials – straw bales can be found with ease, are natural and sustainable. «A straw-bale house is realized using very simple processes that can be achieved even by a non-skilled manpower, so it is a perfect idea for do-it-yourself initiatives», says Paolo Robazza. A building yard of this kind becomes an educational adventure in which everyone has something to learn, even the future owners. The single-storey building has an area of 180 squared-meters, with a wooden structure and a straw-bale infill. It is aligned along the street, with an interior courtyard offering a private green area. The construction speed, typical of this technique, allowed the owner to enter the house in spring 2013, only a year after the opening of the yard.

The location within a particular neighbourhood as the Quadraro required further commitment to BAG in respecting and enhancing the historic and morphological character of the site: «the building elevation on the street maintains the characteristics of the context. For example, the street side of the roof is double pitched, while in the rear side is flat».

«The building yard has aroused great curiosity and sympathy between the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. Everyday people from all over Rome, would come and have a peek». Paolo Robazza defined it a “shared construction”, «that allows young professionals eager to learn these construction techniques, to participate to the yard. During construction BAG organized several workshops, for professionals and students, who participated actively in specific processes, like that of straw, of earthenware, or of other alternative and sustainable techniques». The three workshops held on the yard of Casa Trizzino have addressed the issues of straw-bale building, of earthenware plaster and of radiant floor.

The plaster – directly casted on the straw – «it is a natural mixture of earthenware, lime and sand. It is a material already used at Roman times that has waterproofing properties, able to preserve the natural respiration of the walls. The plaster plays a very important role because, in addition to make the straw weather, time, and small rodents proofing, make the building fire-resistant for about 90 minutes at a temperature of 1100 ºC. The building is equipped with solar panels for the production of hot water and photovoltaic panels for the production of electricity, and is equipped with a tank for the collection and reuse of rainwater». A thermographic test performed after the completion of the building has confirmed its excellent thermal performances and the absence dispersions.

The owner, following an initial period of adaptation to the specific energy performances of her new home, has become a staunch supporter of sustainable and straw-bale construction techniques: «There is something intangible and well-defined, irrational and unspeakable at the same time in living in a straw-bale house. You can see the straw under the roof, and you feel its fragrance. The kids love to live in this house. It is very different from living in a concrete building. The body experiences a different air, breathes a sense of well-being».