The Bale House

New Construction

  • Building Type : Other building
  • Construction Year : 2019
  • Delivery year : 2021
  • Address 1 - street : Lower Coastguard Lane TN35 4AD HASTINGS, United Kingdom
  • Climate zone : [Cwb] Mild, dry winter, cool and wet summer.

  • Net Floor Area : 216 m2
  • Construction/refurbishment cost : 900 000 €
  • Cost/m2 : 4166.67 €/m2

Proposed by :

  • Primary energy need :
    20 kWhpe/m2.year
    (Calculation method : Other )
Energy consumption
Economical buildingBuilding
< 50A
51 à 90B
91 à 150C
151 à 230D
231 à 330E
331 à 450F
> 450G
Energy-intensive building

The 'Bale House' is the new Visitor Centre in Hastings Country Park. This unique straw building is in one of the most stunning landscapes in the UK. It is the first public straw building in Hastings and will act as a community facility and cafe with interpretation that showcases Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve.

From foundations to facade, it is constructed from natural and recycled materials which are healthy, fireproof, breathable, and they lock up carbon from the atmosphere, recycling agricultural by-products. It requires next to no energy to run and due to the high levels of insulation will need no additional heating to keep people comfortable.

This sustainable and exemplary building was designed by Cave Cooperative architects and built by a consortium of straw building specialists led by Huff and Puff Construction Limited and Green & Castle Ltd.

See more details about this project

Data reliability


Photo credit

Mind Wick


    Huff and Puff Construction Limited

    Phil Christopher

Construction Manager

    Green & Castle Ltd

    Mary Rawlinson



    The Cave Cooperative

    Liz Crisp



    Hastings Borough Council

    Murray Davidson

Contracting method

Other methods

Owner approach of sustainability

The site is in an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) nature reserve and close to SSSI's (Sites of special scientific interest). It was crucial that the building responded to its beautiful and natural setting as well as the environmental integrity such a sensitive site requires. The building also needed to respond to it's current climate and regular extreme weather conditions. 

Architectural description

To design a new visitor centre for the stunning country park nature reserve, high on a cliff on the outskirts of Hastings town centre. The brief was to create a building to replace the existing small visitor centre that wasn't fit for purpose at a small fixed budget. The new building needed to be as large as possible and suitable to attract new visitors to the park and fulfil HBC's aspirations for services they could provide from the new building.

The end result is a building with integrity, that sits comfortably and respectfully in its surroundings and will hopefully have a minimal impact on the environment. It will provide the client with a beautiful visitor centre showcasing natural building methods, that provides high-quality space for people to relax, enjoy and learn about their local environment for many
generations to come.

In terms of sustainability and performance, the design allowed for passive heat gain during the winter and sun shading to cool the building in the summer. Natural ventilation and temperature management are managed through a passive ventilation and heat recovery unit. Recycled glass aggregate in the floor acts as insulation as well as DPC. Limecrete replaces concrete and lime render and plaster are used to cover the straw walls. On the most exposed South and Westerly sides a curve was introduced and high quality locally sourced Douglas Fir was used as cladding to the straw walls. Excessive wind speeds on site meant great attention was paid by Structurehaus the engineers, to the wind loads imposed upon the building. To the Southside with sea views, earth anchors and Stayloks were used to hold the cantilever roof down without interrupting the views.

If you had to do it again?

I've learnt that 'value engineering' elements out to reduce the pre tender costings doesn't mean the post tender budget will tally up. It's best to just design simply if the budget is tight and iron out any future variations as much as possible before appointing the contract.

With natural materials, timing and programme are everything, and although we built in a generous contract length, Covid had a big impact on the programme. This meant time was short and risks that we wouldn't normally take were taken. Now we have to re-do some elements, and the lesson is, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Building process:
We used a new consortium method to get a group of artisan builders together. We have never used a consortium approach before and if we were to use this again we would interview individual members prior to appointment to ensure strong skills match across the whole build timeline.

Energy systems:
The natural ventilation unit has been somewhat underwhelming and until we have full data of a year in operation the jury is still out whether this has been worth the time and expense. New technologies don't always live up to the promises as they don't have the proven data to back them up.

Building users opinion

Due to the straw bale construction, the building is wonderfully insulated in winter and remains cool in summer. This makes working and using the centre, not only comfortable but an extremely pleasant experience. Everyone that uses the centre remarks on how comfortable it feels, how light it is and how soundproof it is. The large picture and door windows bathe the interior in natural light.
Overall the internal look and feel of the building is one of remarkable natural ambiance and comfort.

Energy consumption

  • 20,00 kWhpe/m2.year
  • 60,00 kWhpe/m2.year
  • Other

    The house doesn't have a heating source and the only 'regulated' energy being used will be for instant hot water heaters and the lighting, there is nothing else fixed in the building.

Envelope performance

  • 0,15 W.m-2.K-1
  • GB/T 7106-2008

  • 4,00


    • No heating system
    • Individual electric boiler
    • No cooling system
    • Natural ventilation
    • Nocturnal ventilation
    • No renewable energy systems

    Windhive for managing CO2 levels and might time purging is installed.

Life Cycle Analysis

    The scheme looks at whole life cycle processes and the circular economy. Using natural materials such as wood, lime, straw and sheep's wool creates new links between the agriculture and construction industries. By using a waste product such as straw as a construction material the building enhances the value of the farmer’s crop and reduces the potential for either excess nitrogen in the soils, or increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by burning. Furthermore straw and lime sequester carbon in use and so can help with life cycle carbon emissions calculations.

Construction and exploitation costs

  • 900 000
  • 360 000

Energy bill

  • 600,00

Urban environment

Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve is a unique 345ha area of maritime cliff with a cliff top area of maritime acid grassland and heath, gill woodland (including some ancient woodland), scrub, neutral grassland, and amenity grassland. The cliffs at Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve constitute the largest area of the High Weald ridge that meets the sea. This sandstone and clay coastline is uniquely positioned between the alluvial plains of Rye Bay and Pevensey Bay and the chalk of the North and South Downs.

The site is of significant importance both nationally and internationally for its biodiversity and geology and has therefore been granted both Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) status.

Land plot area

4 213,00 m2

Built-up area

249,00 %

Green space

3 450 000,00

Parking spaces

Surface parking for the Visitor Centre includes 3 surface car parks in the immediate vicinity with an approximate space capacity of 200 vehicles

Contest categories

Energy & Temperate Climates

Energy & Temperate Climates

Low Carbon

Low Carbon

Green Solutions Awards 2020-2021

 materials and solutions

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    Green Solutions Awards 2020-2021