Straw greenhouse on Buffalo’s west side

Purva Ghate, a UB graduate architecture student, squares off a bale of hay being used to construct a greenhouse for the Massachusetts Avenue Project. (Photo by Douglas Levere '89)

Contrary to the unhappy experience of the first little pig, straw bale can be the foundation for a strong, cost-effective, exceptionally insulating, fire-resistant, sustainable, natural building system.

University at Buffalo architecture students and community members—cold, covered in mud and stuck with hay—recently raised 130 50-pound “two-string” straw bales that constitute the load-bearing walls of a community greenhouse on Buffalo’s West Side.

The greenhouse was designed and built for the Massachusetts Avenue Project as part of Natural Building Systems, a graduate seminar taught by architect and engineer Kevin Connors, adjunct instructor in the UB School of Architecture and Planning.

“We hadn’t seen much straw-bale construction since it was used for houses in early 20th-century Nebraska, where trees were few and grass was plenty,” Connors says. “Its obvious advantages, however, have helped provoke its comeback over the last 15 years or so.”

Connors says straw bale can be used much more frequently if architects, designers, engineers and the public become familiar with how and why it works so well.