Publisher: Landlinks Press (A CSIRO imprint)
ISBN 0 643 06977 1
When I first got interested in strawbale, the only books available were American, and therefore expensive in Australia. There has been a recent blooming of Australian publications, each with excellent features, and this reflects the growth of interest in this technique.
Practical Straw Bale Building is a wonderful addition to the Strawbale library. This is for several reasons.
First, it is published by CSIRO, and with luck will take the same place as Middleton's Build Your House of Earth did for earth wall construction: convincing Authority that the technique is valid because it has the implied support of a government-funded research agency.
Second, like Middleton, Hollis uses simple, easy to understand language. Without oversimplifying, he manages to explain issues in a language any person will understand. There were only one or two paragraphs I felt the need to read more than once, and these included mathematical calculations.
All other Australian publications, including the strawbale chapter by John Glassford in the fourth edition of my Earth Garden Building Book, are aimed at the amateur, the owner-builder. Hollis is just as interested in supplying the tradesman with enough information to incorporate strawbale building into his or her repertoire, and in devising techniques to make the material more attractive to professional builders.
Hollis describes the standard wisdom about strawbale building; I could not fault any of his information. What he states is exactly what I have gleaned from other sources. However, he goes beyond established knowledge, and presents a number of novel techniques that are obvious improvements. For example, he has developed a simple process for assembling and pre-tensioning a wall horizontally, and then tilting it in place. His reasoning clearly demonstrates the advantages of this method over the usual in situ construction.
Practical Straw Bale Building is clearly illustrated with useful photographs and diagrams. Perhaps the one way I'd have liked to see it improved would be for some personal stories, inspiring anecdotes, some human element. This, however, is only my personal preference. This book is a 'must buy' for anyone with the slightest interest in building with alternative materials. And, in a greenhouse-affected world, that should be everyone interested in building.
Dr Murray Hollis has extensive experience in physics in engineering, primarily at the Australian National University as a Research Fellow and later as Business and Laboratory Manager of the Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering. In recent years, as well as undertaking a variety of business ventures, he has developed new techniques for building with straw bales and has conducted a number of straw bale building workshops on his rural property near Canberra, where he lives and works in his straw bale-walled home. Murray also provides writing services to a wide variety of clients in Australia and other countries.
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