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Architecture of the Sacred

Developing the Process
In January 2000, Professor of Religious Studies Sandy Huntington and local builder Clark Sanders offered a new course called Architecture of the Sacred. In the course, sacred spaces were studied as places of special meaning or ritual, as evocations of people’s most deeply held values, though not necessarily religious spaces. The diversity of sacred spaces, architecture, use of the environment, theoretical and practical levels of special places were investigated. As part of the 'practical' application, students designed a strawbale structure to be constructed at Pine Lake. The readings and discussions that formed the theoretical component of the course heavily influenced the design and specifications for the facility.

The plans developed by the students were reviewed and modified as needed by a licensed architect, engineer, and the local building code enforcement official.

Students, with the assistance of professionals, began construction of the Strawbale House in June 2000. Students learned that the materials used are non-toxic, plentiful, have extremely low environmental impacts, and because of the method of construction, individuals who are not professional tradespersons can participate in the building process. This creates a community-oriented, team focused construction project on site, as opposed to traditional organization of separate crews on construction projects. The building was completed in June 2003.

Local Building Materials
The project used bales of locally-grown straw as insulation within a typical post-and-beam construction. The bales replace the non-renewable insulation materials presently used in the northeastern United States. The bales are sealed with concrete stucco and gypsum plaster to control contamination and disintegration of the straw. Strawbale walls result in high thermal performance (± R40 insulation rating), effective soundproofing and fire resistance, and aesthetic appeal and security without excessive detail. The roof, foundation, windows, and some finishes are made of conventional materials.

Read more about the Strawbale House, and the Cob House, a second building designed and largely constructed by Architecture of the Sacred students.