When the world shakes, straw holds.

Gulzar & son in front of his straw bale PAKSBAB home, under construction.

It’s not just your imagination. The world is shifting under your feet… particularly if you live in North West Frontier Province in Pakistan, where the tectonic plate from the Indian peninsula is shoving its way into the Asian continent, thrusting the Himalayas ever higher and causing all kinds of commotion below.

It’s this chronic tectonic showdown that caused the catastrophic 7.6 magnitude 2005 earthquake in Pakistan that killed more than 87,000 people, including 16,000 children who were crushed to death when their schools collapsed around them. Around 600,000 homes were also destroyed or damaged and even 5 years later, many people are still living in temporary shelters.

The before photo: Gulzar's family lost their home, livestock and livelihood in the quake and has lived in a tent for the past four years.

While much of the rebuilding has been done with the same unreinforced stone, brick or concrete block masonry that becomes lethal in an earthquake, Darcey Donovan has a better idea. This Stanford-educated engineer with a 10-year history of green building in straw-bale construction, has designed an earthquake-resistant home that is inexpensive, energy-efficient, made of locally-sourced renewable materials, utilizes local labor, and adapts traditional building techniques.

Darcey, up on the roof on a straw bale new home in Pakistan.

Sturdy from the ground up, PAKSBAB houses require 1500 hours of work from recipient families & employ tradesmen.

The project is called PAKSBAB (Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building)  and with great thoughtfulness, Darcey is customizing her model to local needs. After visiting Pakistan to help emergency relief efforts in 2006, Donovan returned home to Truckee, California determined to keep her connections with the wonderful Pakistani team she had assembled, and convinced she could create a straw bale prototype that would allow the poor to build safely and inexpensively. Using straw grown locally and compressed into bales using farm jacks and locally made molds, PAKSBAB homes are held together with bamboo pins and fishing nets, with a gravel foundation, a roof insulated with light straw clay, and finished with clay plaster and lime wash.  These indigenous materials are readily available, 80% more energy efficient and 50% cheaper than conventional earthquake resistant construction: about $2,500 in materials for a 23x 23 foot home.

Out of tents, into PAKSBAB homes.

The homes are  also very, very strong. In March 2009 Darcey subjected her house to a series of eight simulated earthquakes at the University of Nevada, Reno. It survived jolts and shear waves up to 8.2 magnitude without breaking down or collapsing. (Watch it shimmy and shake on the website!)

To date, PAKSBAB has built 17 straw bale buildings in Pakistan (with money from generous donors) and has plans for many, many more. “I would like to build a lot of homes,” says Darcey, “ and the beauty is, the technology can be transferred anywhere in the world. Where there is straw, we can build homes.”

The Widow Alai Bibi & grandchildren.

In Atlanta today (6-9 pm) and tomorrow (9-3) Darcey’s sister Stacey McGrath, a master jeweler, is hosting Girlfriends,Cocktails & Jewelry with a Mission and donating 100% of the proceeds of purchased jewelry to help Darcey build a home in Pakiston for Alai Bibi a widow who has been living with her 6 grandchildren and widowed daughter-in-law in a makeshift room of rock, mud and tarps for over 4 years. If you’re in Atlanta, stop in, spend some cash, and walk away enriched in every way. 4605 Angelo Drive, NE.

To donate to PAKSBAB, click here!

2 thoughts on “When the world shakes, straw holds.

  1. The most important part of earthquake recovering is to obtain some shelter for survived families as soon as possible. The other task is to explain to the people to make their homes stronger and more capable of surviving future earthquakes. This straw – bale construction is really a brave idea! I believe it will help to many people they suffer from that kind of disaster… Anyway, the latest earthquake in Canada was on Wednesday May 5, 2010 with magnitude 3.2 MN, 8 km SE of La Malbaie, Quebec…

  2. What an absolutely ingenious idea! Every day Betty you open my eyes to new and amazing people and their work to better the lives of people and animals on this planet! Kudos!!!

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