by: Rita A. Leonard, Sellwood couple Adriana & Pedro Azcarate-Ferbel & their son Santiago pose in Portland’s first city-permitted straw-bale addition, a cutting-edge example of “Green” construction.

Sellwood's award-winning 'Share-It Square' intersection, at S.E. 9th and Sherrett, is again on the cutting edge of the City's Green Building movement. In 2006, Pedro and Adriana Azcarate-Ferbel received Portland's first official building permit to create an addition to their home using 'straw-bale' ('cob') construction.

The project was designed by a firm called 'Communitecture'. The General Contractor is Lydia Doleman, owner of Flying Hammer Productions (503/975-4232), whose crew is mostly women. Neighborhood work parties will assist in the application of plaster early this year.

The project is intended to create an 'earth-friendly, livable' building space, using zero preservatives, and cob construction techniques that have been successfully employed in other accessory structures in the Metro area. The community building activity uses techniques taught by the City Repair Project (, where members of a community build shared purpose through hands-on participation. City Repair was responsible for 'Share-It Square' itself.

The Azcarate-Ferbel home, at 8512 S.E. 9th Avenue in Sellwood, is an 1893 farmhouse that was rehabilitated about 15 years ago. Pedro and Adriana moved to this larger home from the adjacent block, following the birth of their first child in 2005. Adriana, a state- licensed Naturopathic Physician, has her practice in Milwaukie. However, with the departure of two neighborhood naturopaths at S.E. 9th and Sherrett St., Adriana wanted to relocate closer to home to accommodate local needs.

To this end, the couple decided to convert their driveway into an addition that would double the size of their living area, while converting the original front room of their home into an office space. Each area will have its own entrance. This complies with the city's vision for multi-use purposes in new construction. It was also an ideal opportunity to open up the south side of the home with additional windows for passive solar heat, and to add front and back porches.

'Having experimented with straw-bale construction in the past,' says Pedro, 'We decided that this would be our best option in becoming more earth-friendly and energy-efficient. In the future, we may add solar panels to the main roof, although our addition will increase solar gain through the use of skylights, and ventilation with more windows.'

Removal of the driveway began at the end of summer. Pedro saved the chunks of concrete, which are being used as refill in the project. Some windows and other materials were purchased from the ReBuilding Center, while other large beams and 2-by-4's were salvaged from another demolition project on Milwaukie Avenue. The metal roof on the addition is recyclable, while straw bale walls and a strong lime plaster will improve heating and cooling opportunities for the residents.

The addition covers approximately a 14' x 16' interior space, augmented by a front porch space of about 6' x 16' and a small back porch. Load-bearing walls are wired with electrical switches, while the main heat source for the home will be the wood stove already in use. The couple chose to use a lime plaster interior surface on the straw bales instead of the linseed oil weathering material used on the benches at Share-It Square, since the former is stronger and more durable for the living quarters.

Pedro notes that the related projects are 'all in the family', since they have been envisioned and constructed by close friends and neighbors who all subscribe to these 'earth-friendly' building practices. Other area cob constructions include a frog-shaped community oven, a playhouse, news distribution kiosk, backyard sanctuary, and other similar free-standing structures.

Friends gathered in early December to help unload straw bales and stack them on supportive rebar stakes to form the insulation for the walls. As designed, these walls provide high insulation ratings and structural integrity. Earth and sand-based plaster will cover the straw bales and provide a smooth indoor finish augmented with shelving, nooks and benches to accommodate the owners' needs.

'Natural building is more conducive to exciting people about doing creative projects on their own,' notes Pedro. 'If you are interested in learning about natural building design, call Lydia Doleman or Mark Lakeman (503/381-5885), the visionary planners of the award-winning 'Community Demonstration Project' known as 'Share-It Square' at S.E. 9th and Sherrett Street. This spring, the City Repair Project begins again, providing education and opportunities for hands-on practice in producing cob and straw-bale projects for earth-friendly construction.'

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