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Articles by Alpaca World Magazine:

The Straw Bale house

Lindsay Halton

How troublesome might it be if we all got in the ring ? To be judged: ?Pick the one that is true to type? ? A shocking thought. ?Do you have Alpacas?? And, ?what did you do before you had them?? The judges might well ask.

I am at the British Alpaca Futurity, and around the judging ring, at the dinner table and later at the bar, I meet people who were once: a management consultant, a road sweeper, a builder, an army officer, and I myself an architect.

Almost without exception, all the people I spoke to have loosened the reigns on what they used to do, or given it up entirely for what they are doing now ? they follow a dream ? they are living their dream. I like the company of people who take such risks, who put their necks out to follow their dreams. Some might give this a lofty appendage ?having faith?, or the new age version ?going with the flow?, or the biblical ?trust in God?. What might be said more fittingly I think, present company accepted: ?trust in God but tie up your Camel? (an old Sufi saying). Because all the people I met at the Futurity had done their research and were making sound investments ? not only investing time and money in Alpacas but in a lifestyle change.

I sometimes call Alpaca breeding ?designer farming?; it is a life style choice and we are often making design decisions, commenting on: form, crimp, lustre, and choosing colours, even making decisions about fashion ware, but this is all at the surface; in the ring and on the catwalk. Behind the scenes, we wear our muddy wellies, smelly jackets, and we work with dirty Alpacas. Natural and sustainable choices are what interest so many people in the alpaca world ? a concern for nature, the environment, a good life, and good health.

Fourteen years ago I made a life style choice; to the title ?Architect?, I could now add farmer, self-builder, and author. My book ?The Secret of Home? is due out in April 2008, and a house I designed for Rachel Shiamh, 10 years ago, was re-designed and built by her as the straw bale house that so many people will see on TV in May. The house has been shortlisted for the Grand Designs ?Best Eco Home? award. The Grand Designs show on CH4 will host a public vote in May, to find the country?s top Eco Home.

So many people I spoke to at the Futurity are interested in spending more time at home with their alpacas, and living a more sustainable life, and so I decided it would be fun to run a workshop with Rachel at her straw bale house in West Wales. The workshop will probably be called ?The Secret of Home and the Straw Bale house?.

Rachel?s story about her self built house is in my book, because she, like so many of us, has taken a risk and followed her dream. I tell myself Rachel?s story whenever I lack the courage and conviction to follow a dream. Rachel built her house against all odds, with only enough money to pay my fee and with a piece of land on an historic site that could not be reached by any public services or vehicles. Her house is now an inspiration - a lighthouse for Eco Design, and a precedent for local authority planners to take an alternative view. Standing prominently above the Teifi estuary on the site of a ruin that was formerly the ?look out? for monks at St. Dogmaels Abbey, it is the only two-storey load bearing straw bale house in Britain - It reaches out, and Rachel is there to share the story. This is an extract from The Secret of Home, pg.91:

One by one all the other obstacles fell away, and people came to help and give support. While she was building the house, she lived in a small wooden hut with a straw bale extension. It was very peaceful there, a sanctuary for anyone who wanted to visit and share her vision.

Her father used to visit her there in the hut, and one day he said, ?Somehow the money is going to come for your house?. Some time later, he realised he was dying, and he said happily to Rachel, ?Now you will be able to build your home?. With his money the building work began, and helpers came from all over the world to live and work with Rachel.

Often designers focus on image, they want so much control - architects of my generation were told to look more deeply: ?God is in the details?, our tutors used to say. The right to play God however did not come with the qualification; I have found it best to let things flow, to pay attention to the way things are, and to see beauty in diversity. It is wonderful to see Rachel?s house on the hill, and below it nestled in terraced rows the vernacular houses and bungalows indigenous to this part of the world.

What would the Monks of the Abbey now say, how would they judge this house? And we who like this house ? how would we be judged. Many alpaca people seem to like the idea of building a Straw Bale house ? do they take the same view when thinking about the breeding of alpacas. Alpaca breeders have an eye for design and a nose for a good investment, but how far do we take this. Do we think about embryo transfer and conformity of type in the breed?

When I look at the Straw Bale House, I know it is strong and well covered, but it is much more than that, it is also a celebration of diversity and sustainability ? This is the bigger picture. When Rachel built her house, she did it out of love: love for the place, love for the material and the people who helped her, and love for the home it was to become.

At the workshop Rachel will talk about how to build a straw bale house, and what makes this place her home. I will talk about ?the Secret of Home?. I have been looking at houses in this way for 14 years, and I have discovered that home is a ?mirror of self?. If we look more closely at our relationship with home; if we look into the details of our home, we can see the reflection of the way things are in our lives. ?God is in the details?, means to me that we can read our homes, they tell our whole life story, and we can work with our homes to make things better in our lives. My book is a self-help guide; it takes the reader on a journey through life and home, to discover the secrets that lie hidden in the details.

Places will be limited on this workshop so that we can move with ease around Rachel?s house. Lindsay will sign the first 500 copies of the book sold through his website. To contact Lindsay, buy the book, or find out more about Rachel?s House, visit: