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Sarah Wigglesworth’s Straw Bale House retrofitted

9 December 2021

Renowned for her sustainable approach to design, architect Sarah Wigglesworth has upgraded her Straw Bale House in north London, making revisions that reduce C02 emissions by 62% and also make significant provision for later stages of living.


The light airy space benefits from an abundance of glazing, which looks onto areas of planting.


The home of architect Sarah Wigglesworth and her partner Jeremy Till, who is head of Central St Martins, Stock Orchard Street or Straw Bale House as it is widely known, was originally constructed over twenty years ago. It is a significant scheme in the Sarah Wigglesworth Architects portfolio, which in the last quarter of a century has worked extensively on creating people-centred projects including cultural buildings, offices, private and social housing plus structures for sport and education. 

The retrofitting of the home of architect Sarah Wigglesworth saw C02 emissions cut by 62% with uncontrolled air filtration significantly reduced.

Back in the early 2000s, the Straw Bale House was a groundbreaking project intended not only as a domestic space but also an office. While most of us had to abruptly adapt to the juxtaposition of working and living in the same space last spring, the owners here were  ahead of their time. This home also serves as an ongoing research project, using materials such as sandbag walls, fabric cladding and, as its colloquial name suggests, straw bale insulation. In 2015, the UK’s Architect’s Journal described it as ‘the most influential house in a generation’.Describing the project, Wigglesworth herself says, “I have always seen this building as a plaything for us as architects; we built it expecting to always be working and developing it.” 


The Straw Bale House provides somewhere to live and work and also serves as a test bed for eco home ideas.

The original design used passive design principles to create a comfortable, low energy live/work environment. The house’s library tower is also a ventilation shaft, bringing plenty of cool in, in summer while planting keeps the south-facing, glazed walls cool in warmer months but allowing the sun in, in wintertime. The next phase of this eco home saw much of the inside of the building ripped out before being pieced back together with impressive results: C02 emissions have been reduced by nearly two thirds. 


To achieve this, Wigglesworth appointed environmental consultancy Enhabit to look at how the building performed in terms of fabric efficiency and energy demand. Increased air tightness was achieved by installing airtightness tapes at floor-wall junctions and around incoming services while uncontrolled air infiltration has also been substantially reduced. Features such as roof lights and windows which were underperforming have been replaced and ventilation units upgraded. To reduce glare and overheating, external shading was incorporated on the house’s south west elevation. 


As part of designing for later living, a utility room was converted into a kitchen.


Other elements of this retrofit took account of the owners’ needs as they age. A utility room on the ground floor was converted into a separate kitchen and this, together with a bedroom and separate bathroom, could provide a private suite for a carer should the need arise in the future. In the bathroom a level-access shower was installed, along with grab rails for the bath surround. Handrails were also added to the stair and bridge balustrade to aid mobility and if a lift were to be required in years to come, a site within the home has already been identified.


The changes made to this home ensure Wigglesworth and her partner can enjoy their space for some time to come. 


Originally written by Helen Parton

Copyrights for all the pictures: © Ivan Jones



Sarah Wigglesworth’s Straw Bale House retrofitted
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