[Strawbale] ESBG 2011 and the future of strawbale building

asbn asbn at baubiologie...
Wed Aug 31 12:23:30 CEST 2011

ESBG 2011 and the future of strawbale building

Some personal remarks on the so-called european strawbale gathering 2011 in
the sleepy village Bouzov-Podoli (CZ)

My first day in BP: imagine coming to a place where permaculture is the
thing. That´s fine by me, but in this case it literally means
eco-puritanism. The only room for presentations - a tiny teahouse (and this
also means no coffee anywhere) with a sunken roof because of the abundant
vegetation on it, that you have to enter with a deep bow and some deep
respect of mother nature. A big bump on the head reminded me: tree-trunks
are harder than my skull, maybe because I had not taken off my shoes before

The purpose of the building (100 % ecological of course, made of trunks,
earth and maybe a little straw) became quite clear: it´s a stresstest on
what earthen walls really can do for indoor-climate. No ventilation, no
electricity, no windows to be opened, and now you may multiply like 30
people in a room for 20 with the 36 °C it had on this day, add a lot of
sweat and you come to the result, that it´s possible to build 100 %
ecological even with almost no money and without architects and building
physicians. At least if you don´t intent to use the building for longer than
the 2 minutes we humans survive without breathing.

Apropos shoes: We wouldn´t have needed them at all because of the heat, but
outside the teahouse we had to decide whether to walk on crushed stone with
bare feet (and get rid of this softening overcivilised attitude of us petty
urbans) or slip back in our dampening footwear.

Nature was the big theme on this 'ESBG', but even the wasps (which seemed to
gather here from all over Czech Republic) knew that and so they decided to
populate the vegetarian feeding places in crowds and followed the food and
drinks to the tables. This was the next lecture to learn to live in
accordance to mother nature. And if you count those nice little creatures as
visitors (why not?), this ESBG was the best visited ESBGs of all time.

But who am I to complain: not arriving on the first day saved me from
working on the wells (yes, really!) to have the pleasure of pipewater. Cold
water was spare, except at the only real refreshing place around, a pond
about 3 km astray, which had obviously been overlooked by the eco-puritans
and so kept it´s natural beauty.

Enough; I came here to meet and greet and share and exchange, so let´s come
to that. The programm was very relaxed, it's called „open space“ and
supposedly the latest hype for conferences. In fact open space means, that
nobody feels responsible, because nobody had to follow a schedule or could
even be sure about what he or she had to present or share. The majority was
wandering around the perimeter, not knowing where to go, what to say or
hear. Superfluous to mention the lack of any presentation technique like a
silly beamer (which really doesn't fit to such a low tech area); we crowded
together around some laptops, until their batteries went dead.

But let´s have some practice. Only pure naturalists enjoy standing in the
baking, burning sun for more than 5 minutes, not to speak of building
strawbale constructions. But there are always those tougher than the rest.
Some were very willing to work with the handmade strawbales, but...
according to the law of Max (I come to that later) one has to begin with the
stemming of the lines before the wrapping may begin. A lecture, that the
truth of strawbale-building isn't just fun with bales, but a lot of
preparing work around. After 15 minutes everybody seemed to know the
technique of wrapping by watching the stemming and left the place.

Dusk fell, it was still very warm, and after exchanging a lot of
anger-calming jokes about the ongoing events (in the center of which stood
„Mad Max“, the ever stressed out, goofylike leader with an annoying cowboy
attitude (and hat)), we found ourselves coming together, enjoying delicious
cold beer and soothing cigarettes (some more natural smokeables) and each
other, celebrating a birthday child with a „cake“ of clay with candles, and
entertaining us with tales of the strawbalers world and about the funny
situation. The local ESBG-team tries always to compensate Max' chaotic
manner and is really nice and friendly, serves some schnaps and (free) beer
to lift the spirit... but it all came to a sudden end with the spontaneous
arrival of the 'leader'. He prohibits smoking (we sit outside in the open
air on a place called 'bar', but according to Max' law we are on a
strawbuilding site and everybody knows: don't play with fire when on a
strawbuilding-site). Because the author of this silly review seems to ignore
the actual seriousness of the situation, Max threatens him to remove him
from the premises and fetches the lighted cigarette out of his hands. „What
about the candles?“ one dares to ask. You all can surely imagine, that the
cake with the candles followed the cigarette immediately into the dust of
the night.

After that lecture in preventing fire on strawbuilding-sites we could have
proceeded smoking, lighting candles and joking but nobody was in any mood
for that anymore. What was told in the minutes before we went to sleep is
better not be cited.

But what the hack, the next day would save the event: the big 'European
strawbale conference' which takes place – oh glory halleluja – in a
different location at the townhall in Bouzov (and this means comfortable
toilets, a beamer, windows to open and hopefully no wasps).

My second day in Bouzov-Podoli: In preparing the big event some creative new
things were established, e.g. the european networkers, who have brought
european strawbale building-efforts to the point, where it is today, had to
present their topics on posters. Themes of the presentations were edited and
dictated to prevent duplication and different views, as a result e.g. a
well-known plasterworker didn´t talk about his expertise, but shared some
refreshing notes about his life as a young entrepreneur... an entertaining
presentation in contrast to the usual specialized strawbale-lectures.

The schedule was tight, to say the least. We were at the clock; a
countdown-device counted 20 minutes, starting again in the second it reached
zero. Questions were entirely postponed to after the last presentation at 5
pm and exept a lunchbreak and a short break on afternoon we had no pauses at
all for questioning or discussions (or smoking:-). A conference without the
usual exchange like comparing experiences, sharing knowledge, bringing up
strawbale building by working together. Obviously Max has a completely
different viewpoint on that – no topic was scheduled more than once, so in
the end it was one large heap of puzzle-pieces, only every stone belonged to
a different puzzle...

Unfortunately even off the stage it was not possible to learn much, because
whatever was interesting and not per se understandable in the presented
system turned out to be a secret of the inventors. All in all a pleasent
conference-day with concise presentations and without arduous debates...

I left immediately after the conference, some of the visitors from Poland
and Germany did that immediately after arriving (and clashing with Max), but
most of the others persevered, tolerated and outlasted the challenges and
inventions because of the big distances to their home-countries, waiting for
something like a turning point, which didn't come at all.

My conclusion: Certainly it was great to get to know and meet again so many
nice people, but if this so-called ESBG is in any way significant for the
future of the european strawbale building, then good night, european
strawbale building. Whats the purpose of an ESBG? For me, what it always was
– sharing knowledge and experiences between all european networkers and
straw bale builders, so that we can go home to our respective countries,
with renewed enthusiasm (which lasted long e.g. after the last Belgian
ESBG), the reinforced feeling of being part of a movement, fine-tuning next
years coordination, and some new ideas in the baggage to be spread at home
in workshops. In one word – bringing forward the case.

This years ESBG paints a threat: a threat of an event advertising the
organiser, abused for the sake of the local/regional strawbale building
scene alone. That leaves the international networkers with the task that
should be done by the locals: teaching newbies. Don´t get me wrong, that´s
an honorable task, and an important one, only why should any international
expert pay for that? Experts pay for becoming even greater experts. If
there´s just a job to do in which they only give, they should GET at least
paid. Or otherwise simply no one will gather together anymore.

This is just my opinion, but I think its time to act now and push the next
ESBG in a better direction....

Mit lieben Grüßen / with kind regards
Herbert Gruber
asbn - austrian strawbale network
Österreichisches Netzwerk für Strohballenbau
3720 Ravelsbach, Baierdorf 6
Email: asbn at baubiologie...

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