Ottawa

Ottawa architect mixes ancient materials, modern methods to build 1,000-year eco-home

It's a twist on the tale of the Three Little Pigs: a house made of straw, wood and clay, and yes, it will stand up to strong winds.

Walls made with straw, clay, wood — and the convenience of power tools

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      It's a twist on the tale of the Three Little Pigs: a house made of straw, wood and clay, and yes, it will stand up to strong winds.

      Bobby Ilg, an Ottawa architect and part-time design instructor at Algonquin College, is working with a dozen students to build the unique, all-natural house where he plans to live with his family when it's complete.

      "I will be living in this house for the rest of my life," he told Hallie Cotnam on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

      Everything we need to build our homes is in our own backyard: clay, straw, timber, stone.- Robert Laporte

      "These homes have lasted for over 1,000 years in places like northern Europe and northern Japan. They're built throughout the world. They're often seen in desert climates, as well."

      Robert Laporte, a pioneer in modern clay and straw construction, came to Ottawa from his base in Oregon to help with the project.

      "Everything we need to build our homes is in our own backyard: clay, straw, timber, stone," Laporte said.

      But while the house is being built with the materials of our ancestors, it's being done with the convenient addition of power tools.

      "Taking the gifts from our past traditions — things that have stood the test of time, buildings that have stood the test of time — but incorporating modern methods," Laporte said.

      'Building the builder'

      The day's work begins with a series of exercises Laporte describes as "building the builder." Gathered in a circle, the workers do stretches, yoga poses and calisthenics to wake up the brain, he said.

      "You don't see an Olympic athlete just start the race without all this preparation," he said. "There'd be a lot less construction industry accidents if the time was taken to start the day with a beginner's mind: fresh and alert."

      Then comes the labour-intensive process of building 12-inch thick walls made of barley straw coated in clay, bookended by wooden panels.

      The straw acts as insulation — to keep the chill out during Ottawa's cold winters — and the clay protects the straw from moisture and mould to create an energy-efficient home, Laporte said.

      "Easy to heat, and air conditioning is not necessary," Laporte said.

      If you want to learn more about eco-built homes using clay and straw, there's a free lecture called, "Cutting Edge Ancient Wisdom" at Algonquin College on Sept.12 at 5 p.m.

      Listen to the full Ottawa Morning item here.