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Animal Tracks and Slip-Straw

Slip-straw is another good use for straw, an abundant byproduct in Ontario. It is the combination of clay and straw to insulate wall cavities. The straw is hand-tossed with slip, which is watered clay, then packed into the walls that have temporary forms up. Not all the seeds are removed from the straw before it gets bailed so seeds start sprouting from the walls days later. What’s really cool is that we won’t need a moisture tester to tell us when the slip-straw is dry inside because the sprouts will tell us when they die. Once that happens, in at least 3 weeks, it’s time for lime plaster.

The earthen plaster application was also in full swing. We had to make sure the inner walls were finished in order for the floor to be poured so that was the first job tackled. The bales are not exactly a uniform surface so the plaster had to be applied in different depths in different places. Starting at the bottom of the walls the plaster is applied quite liberally to support the plaster to be applied above it and to make up for the inconsistencies in the bales. The toughest areas are around the door and window opening and along the top plates. Wire mesh helps the plaster but also resulted in a few nicks and cuts to the plasterers if they weren’t careful. The bales had been beveled around the windows and doors as well to allow for nice smooth rounded corners there. The goal was to get the walls as straight and level as possible so that the eventual finishing coat, which will be applied after this thicker and more fibrous coat has dried, can be thinly and quickly added.

The floor team met with Keith Dietrich to put together a plan for the floor pour which will be concrete with 50% of the portland cement replaced with slag, which is a byproduct of the steel industry. Animal and bird foot print stamps were hand carved and used to make tracks in the floor before it finished setting. A semi-circle around the entrance and a 6 foot diametre circle in the centre of the main hall were left untouched to be tiled in later. Radiating out from those are imprints of plant and tree samples picked from around the building. Printing was the fun part but it was incredible just how fast, precise and difficult it is to pour a concrete floor properly before it sets. For two days, Keith led the crew through the thin to thick all day trick with their wheel barrows, rakes, floats and trowels while he screeted and made it really shine. We used stamp mats to make the entrance foyer look like bedrock and a brown hardening pigment to make the office a beautiful chocolate brown. It looks really great already and the detail to be added should set the look off even further.

Elsewhere on site the soffit and fascia team was still hard at work and a few dedicated souls even managed to get a little reeding in. Thanks to good planning, the crew have the following week off so the floor and walls could have a week undisturbed to set and cure.