Well, my name’s Rachel Shiamh and we’re here in Pembrokeshire, in West Wales, and we’re at the site of a two-storey, load-bearing straw bale house, which is the first in the U.K. that’s two-storey load-bearing. And load-bearing means that it doesn’t have a wooden frame to hold the house together. It’s literally straw bales built like bricks for the roof, fixed on, and they’re compressed and plastered, and that’s what holds the house together.
Historical sources of inspiration
I can’t really say where the inspirations for this house came. I think it came through me just by letting go and listening to the natural surroundings.
It started to kind of arise through me, the vision for the house, and this place is… used to be, in the old days, a lookout of the estuary when the pirates came in, and it was also a place of retreat for the monks of the ruined abbey in the village. So I was really aware of that connection with the land and the abbey, and I started to get images of curves, arches and also, the pattern of energy under the ground.
When I walked into what was going to be the house, I kind of had a clear direction for where the bathroom needed to go, where the kitchen was gonna go… it’s almost like something was just lending itself to me. So it wasn’t as if I just sat down and thought about it, it was a few years of it emerging.
A softer touch?
I think, for me, it just makes sense to have a curving space; you know, it’s kind and it’s what nature offers. Nature doesn’t offer straight lines and corners.
For me, it’s about flow, and working with women on the build was an empowering experience. I found that there was a kind of level of co-operation that was unspoken, that we could work together quite quietly and harmoniously, often, which was a beautiful experience, and I didn’t have to explain myself too much. And I think there’s more room for women to go into building, and there’s a lack of confidence there.
It’s like Desmond Tutu once said, you know… men… we men… he said, we men have made the mess and now it’s time for the women. And I don’t actually totally agree with that, but I think there’s an opening now where the softness and the slowness and that intuitive way of being is coming into the world, and it’s going to support the fear, the disasters and the climate change, and all this fear that’s surrounding climate change and the changes in the world. I think there’s a portal, and there’s an opening to support that, and I feel that that’s what this home has been about.