Nestled at the foot of the San Ysidro Mountains in the Borrego Springs Desert sits San Diego County’s first permitted straw bale building – the Shimeall guest house. Although California state law now permits the use of straw bale construction, at the time we were designing Shimeall we found it important to put together a source book for the building officials to help educate them and answer their concerns about an unfamiliar material and construction method. By educating the planning engineers prior to plan submittal, the review process was actually less involved than many conventionally framed structures we have worked on.
The 500 square foot plan for the guest house was developed from a series of site and zoning opportunities/restrictions. The semi-circular design with central patio gives the structure a much larger appearance than one would imagine from the limited size. Views to the North along with the need to minimize the intense summer heat of Borrego Springs helped determine the northern orientation while progressively smaller windows from East to West help take advantage of passive solar gain during the winter months. One very rewarding aspect of this project was the weekend workshops in which volunteers joined together in a community-building experience to learn about straw-bale construction techniques and to “raise” the walls together. The two-foot thick walls add a sense of permanence and stability as well as a sculptural quality to the structure.