Darma Wants Us to Build Sustainable Housing

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Darma Duus, 39, sitting on her favourite building material.

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A picture of Darma Duus' first hay house.

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The walls of an ordinary Danish house measure 45 centimeter in thickness, while hay houses has a wall thickness of 60 cm.

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A facade covered with unfired clay tiles.

Published
01.06.2016

Darma Duus is not your ordinary architect, designing striking edifices day in and day out. Sure, her creative work is notable, but what makes it truly remarkable is the Danish architect’s choice of building materials. Duus uses hay and clay to create what she calls “the most sustainable housing with the healthiest indoor climate you can imagine.” Being sincerely interested in this heartfelt claim, we sat down with Darma Duus and we found out that the building industry is going to be revolutionised. At least, that is her ambition.

“If I could inform the population that a house built of hay and clay is the best to live in, then I would have come a long way. I would have fulfilled the meaning of my life,” states Darma Duus.

Duus’ passion for sustainable hay housing began when she bought an old half-timbered house which needed restoration. One day, her ex-husband, whom she bought the house with, was about to examine the state of a gable by scratching it with a stick, when, all of a sudden, the wall fell to the ground. The old house was dead, and the couple decided to demolish it. Then Duus began to draw her first hay house.

When it came to being sustainable, she wanted the best possible house, while also wanting to create a great indoor climate.

“I love nature. So I wanted to take care of it, while also having the best possible living conditions. The combination of those two parameters yields a house built with hay,” says Duus and continues: “The big difference between an ordinary house and a house built with hay and clay is the indoor climate. A hay house breathes all the time, so you get a healthy and comfortable indoor climate. A lot of modern houses have vapour barriers, which basically means that you live in a plastic bag. That’s also why these types of houses demand mechanical ventilation.”

Instead of stacking bales of straw, Duus’ house was made in a modern way with compressed straw panels that were mounted on a wooden frame. According to Duus, the house was an experiment, which turned out to be really nice to stay in. At the same time, she was fond of the thought that you could knock down the house and then it would eventually decompose – except the roofing felt.

Sustainable housing is not hobbit houses

Growing up with a mum and dad that redecorated and rebuilt a lot, Duus has always known plenty about putting things together. Despite that fact, her first hay house became an exciting task, she remembers. Containing cellulose insulation and the compressed straw panels, the inner walls were covered with clay plaster, which, besides being a great heat accumulator, also makes the house more fireproof.

“Most people who build hay houses today are self-builders. I want to reach people that don’t believe they can go ahead and build a hay house, because actually they can. People that haven’t considered a hay house as an opportunity. Maybe they think: “Hay houses are only for hobbits” – I imagine that’s a great barrier for people,” says Duus, who went to study at Aarhus School of Architecture after she had finished her first hay house in 2006.

When you speak with the sustainable architect, her mission becomes very clear. She sees no obstacles for people, if they wish to build a house made of hay and clay, other than the fact that it is a little more time-consuming, when compared to ordinary building styles.

“A hay house costs the same as a normal house. The biggest expenses are wages, because it takes longer to build. The materials are less expensive. However, you should not buy a hay house because it’s cheaper, but because it’s better,” says Duus.

Asking her about how people can begin to live more sustainable, she has especially one advice regarding interior decorating, which is a profession she also practices.

“Choose something that you want, and don’t invest in something before you have the right feeling about it. Because if you throw it away or move out after six months, then nothing will be sustainable. So, choose quality,” ends Darma Duus.