The living building challenge
The Cuerden Valley visitor centre is situated in the beautiful Lancashire countryside and is hiding a few surprises beneath its wooden exterior. Serving as a base of operations for the Cuerden Valley country park, the visitor space offers everything from hearty food to engaging learning spaces.
Completed in 2018, the building is a testament to what can be achieved by going back to basics to deliver something truly unique. As well as serving as the hub of the Cuerden Valley park, the visitor centre was the first Living Building Challenge registered building in the UK – an accreditation given to regenerative buildings that create a positive impact on humans and the natural systems they interact with.
What was truly out of the ordinary for this building was that it was built with straw, timber, and gravel-filled tyres. Perhaps even more unusual, it was designed so that it could be built by volunteers from the park trust, saving the park in the region of £100,000.
Working with Straw Works
We worked in conjunction with Straw Works (now operating as Wellspring Architecture) on the project. A firm dedicated to natural building, they used straw as a sustainable building material, delivering designs and finished buildings that work towards a circular economy and a more sustainable built environment.
Using straw and timber for structural stability.
On the project, we used a straw bales wall system. More specifically, we drove large wooden stakes through multiple stacked straw bales, thus tying the blocks together and offering structural stability. This ‘stacked bales’ method enabled us to stabilise the building without the need for steel or concrete.
In addition to its use with the straw bales, timber played a large part in the build, with timber roof trusses used throughout and across many of the interiors.
Strong foundations without steel or concrete
There was a steadfast commitment from all sides to deliver the visitor centre with completely sustainable materials and without the need for large amounts of steel or concrete. This presented a challenge when it came to the foundations.
Because the structure was located atop a hill descending into a valley and because the building itself was incredibly lightweight, we had to find a way to build natural foundations that would protect the structure from damaging wind pressures. The solution was to use rubber tyres filled with gravel.
Using this method essentially offered the anchoring needed for the structure to safely withstand the environmental pressures of its location, all without the need for conventional building materials.
Designed for self-building
Because of the considered design of the building, the execution was relatively low-tech. This simple approach enabled the building to be built by volunteers, empowering the Trust and its stakeholders to take a central role in the construction of their new visitor centre.