Victoria, Australia Workshop Host Interview

Written by Andrew Morrison

We are so looking forward to our trip back Down Under in March, 2015 to teach a 7 day workshop on Enga’s straw bale house! Not only will this build teach participants what they need to know in order to bale their own house, but it will also serve as a testing grounds for the Architecture and Design School of RMIT (in which Enga is enrolled in the PhD program). Via a series of  data monitors in the walls of the structure, a team will be able to follow temperature and moisture levels over the next few years as the building is rendered and then lived in.

Another incredibly fascinating fact about the incomparable Enga is that she is a world renowned rock climber (not that she would ever admit to it) as well as a seasoned rafting guide, outdoors woman extraordinaire, and lover of all things having to do with nature, adventure, adrenaline, and community.  In this article we share an interview we did with her recently. If you would like to read more about this workshop, please click HERE.

What is your vision for your build? Why did you decide to go with straw bale?

straw bale house framing
Enga’s straw bale house well underway

I decided to build a new house after owning and renovating a beautiful, classic Australian weatherboard with lots of character but way too big, inefficient and too cold/hot. My goal was to build a very small home that is designed, built and will perform with as little impact on the environment (including energy use) as possible.

Straw bale seemed the obvious choice to achieve the goal of efficiency given the local climate where super-insulated homes seem the best way to achieve a comfortable environment without lots of air-conditioning or heating. In addition, a house built with bales has such a lovely look and feel whereas achieving the same performance with other materials would mean living in a house of foam and plastics. Living in a grain growing community means the bales will be harvested just down the road.

You are one of the most interesting hosts we have ever had when it comes to travels and adventure. What has your life path been like in terms of your incredible excursions. How did you get into the line of work that you do?

new09 186_TB75636My life path took a fantastic turn in 1989 while on a short climbing trip to Australia. I was enrolled in a PhD program and doing all those things one “should” do to be a “success.” I returned to the US and dropped out of school and worked as a raft guide on the Arkansas River that summer so that I could get as much time in my kayak as possible (I was just learning).

I figured I would guide and travel for a year or two and then get a “proper” job. Instead, I have continued to work and play on the rivers and mountains of the world ever since. Not a choice that provides great financial security, but the view from the office is fantastic and I get to meet and work with some of the most amazing people anywhere. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to share my passion for the outdoors, climbing and kayaking with my clients, and it is really rewarding when I see that same passion ignited in them. For the last 10 years, I have been guiding 14-16 day trips through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. This is one of the most magical places in the world and one that teaches me something new every trip.

You are an avid rock climber. Tell us about what rock climbing means to you.

IMG_5192Climbing totally grabbed me the first time I touched rock. It allows me to spend lots of time in beautiful, uncrowded places with friends. I can have an easy, stress free day on the rock or really push myself physically or psychologically. Either way, at the end of the day, it was just about getting outside and having fun. No pressure, not saving the world (or destroying it!) and hopefully not taking any of it too seriously.

It is fantastic to travel to different climbing venues around the world, each with their own type of rock and character, but almost universally beautiful places. The climbing community is incredibly warm and welcoming and that makes experiencing new destinations a joy. Mt. Arapiles, which is our backyard crag, is an international destination and as it turns out, two of the better climbers in the world will be visiting and giving a slide show the Sunday before the workshop. It will be a great event for our little community.

How are you feeling about being a host and your build? What excites you most about it?

I am feeling incredibly nervous about being a host. There is so much to have organised to do it well, not the least of which is to have a building ready. I think we have the building ticked at this point (except for the windows that should arrive soon). To test it out, I had a dinner party on the deck last night with a few of the friends who have helped get the project this far. It is that sense of working together and having fun learning and achieving something together that I remember liking the most about the workshop I did in Montana. That is what excites me the most about having this workshop instead of doing the baling and rendering myself. I am also looking forward to the evening music sessions around camp.

In an amusing twist of fate (or some might say a question of my sanity), I am back in academia beginning a PhD through the Architecture and Design School of RMIT. As such, this house and this workshop will be contributing to the science and knowledge of straw bale buildings. We will be building in some data monitors in the walls of the structure. These will monitor temperature and moisture levels over the next few years as the building is rendered and then lived in.

We hope you will be able to join us at this workshop too. The dates are March 9-15, 2015. To read more and sign up, click HERE.

3 Responses

  1. I can see you now strumming your guitar each night around the fire 😉
    Sounds like a great workshop,enjoy my friend.

  2. It certainly is a small world. We hosted a workshop of Andrew’s in May of 2013. We live in West Virginia, but our son is a guide on the Arkansas River.

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