Monthly Archives:August 2014

Adding a green roof to the straw bale classroom

28 Aug 14
Michelle Gaffaney
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The walls are up, and it’s time to add the green roof to our straw bale classroom at Castle Hill School.

First the beams go on

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Then we need to edge the roof

It will be a green roof – a living ‘lawn’ of sedum on top of the classroom, so a strong ‘fence’ around the edges is needed to prevent the ground from shifting when it rains. There is also a pathway of gravel around the lawn to provide structure and drainage:

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Adding the sedum

For a project of this scale, it’s easier to buy sedum and soil in rolls, like this:

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They can be easily unrolled onto the surface of the roof:

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Dan thought he was at the park and tried to take a nap...

Once complete, the roof looks like a field – it’s hard to tell it apart from the landscape behind!

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School toilets

19 Aug 14
Michelle Gaffaney
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Do you remember your school toilets? Not a good memory, right? If they were anything like mine, they were smelly, dingy and felt a bit like there might be a bully about to grab you at any minute. It doesn’t have to be like that – with thoughtful design, school toilets can be positive, clean and fresh.

A serious issue

Around 25% of schoolchildren avoid using the toilet at school, with many reporting that they drink less during the day so they won’t need to go. As the wonderful charity ERIC’s The Right to Go campaign makes clear, this is a serious issue, with impacts on educational outcomes and even the risk of long-term health impacts such as incontinence and infections.

So, how do you make school toilets better? If you’re redesigning your facilities it is really worth thinking of more than a lick of paint and some new fittings. Here are some of the things to think about:

1. Bully-free bathrooms

Lots of pupils worry about being cornered in toilets. Having more than one door means students can flow through without feeling trapped. Too many toilet blocks are dark and dingy, hidden in a corner of the school; bright, light toilets in a central place feel safer. If you can, you might even consider having single cubicles dotted around the school instead of a single block. Get some really robust locks to make sure students feel their privacy is respected.

2. Good scents

School loos get heavily used, so they can get a bit whiffy! Investing in a really good system of ventilation will ensure those pongs are kept at a minimum. There is also no substitute for maintenance: it’s worth investing in easy-clean fittings at the outset. Think about having flooring that slopes up to meet the wall, hands-free soap and taps, and lighting that sits flush with walls or ceilings to avoid cobwebs and dirt building up.

3. Make it cool

If you’ve got a problem with vandalism in your toilets, it might help to rethink the design. When children like something and think it is special, they are much more likely to treat it well. Think about having an accent wall decorated with street art, bright glittery surfaces or a theme chosen by students. It doesn’t cost much more and it could make a real saving in the long run. You could even think about having piped music – pupils won’t be worried about embarrassing noises and they will feel more relaxed and respectful.

4. Heavenly hygiene

We know keeping school toilets clean can be a really thankless task. Try hands-free equipment to reduce germ transference and keep your fittings much cleaner. A modern, trough-style sink could be much more attractive to students than old-style basins. Push-button toilet flushes are also a great way to keep bacteria at bay.

If you think your school’s toilets could use a bit more pizzazz, just get in touch to see how we can help!

Match that colour with Pantones

11 Aug 14
Michelle Gaffaney
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Finding the right shade for your home is really important – you’re going to be looking at it a lot! If you see a perfect colour and need to match it, there’s a simple tool to help – the Pantone system.

What are Pantones?

If you find it tricky to identify a precise colour shade, you’re not alone. Back in the 1950s a printer was trying to make sure he could specify different shades of ink. He designed a system to categorise all the pigments used by his company – the Pantone system was born!

The Pantone Colour Matching System is a guide to every conceivable colour. As all manufacturers call their colours something different, it is very hard to cross-reference different products to ensure the colours match. Using the Pantone system means simply matching a colour to the relevant Pantone card, and using that as a reference point.

How do I use them?

A Pantone set can cost quite a bit of money, but that’s not the only way to use them. If you spot the perfect colour – for example, an earthy brown rug, the most delicate baby blue curtains, or a sunny orange lampshade – and you want to match it, the manufacturer may well be able to tell you the Pantone shade. You can pass this on when you’re shopping around for the perfect match.

The important thing to remember about colours is that they look different in different lights. If you’ve ever brought home one of those tester paint pots and found a shade that looked gentle in the shop seems terribly dark in your home, you’ll know what I mean. Pantones can be really useful to make sure a colour that will look good in your house, not just the shop.

What about contrasting colours?

A colour wheel is a great way to find colours that contrast or work well together. Are you going for warm, cool or neutral colours? What shade will contrast well with what you have already chosen? In those anxious moments when you’re making a big decision about what to buy, it can be really easy to get it wrong – unless you have a colour chart or wheel to remind you exactly what you need.

Confused about what colour you need, and what will work well with your overall scheme? Just give us a call and we can do the hard work for you. Take a look at this article on House Beautiful magazine to give you some initial ideas, then give us a ring on 01706 813777.

VIDEO: The classroom so far

11 Aug 14
Michelle Gaffaney
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Take a look at our straw bale classroom in progress!

Our wonderful work experience student Autumn has put together this fab video showing the build so far at Castle Hill School. It shows the foundations being dug and built, the straw bale walls going up, and finally the timber roof going on:

Of course, there’s still plenty to do. Watch this space for further updates as we continue work on the new eco-classroom at Castle Hill School.

Architect work experience – Autumn shares her story

07 Aug 14
Michelle Gaffaney
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This post is written by Autumn Jones, our fabulous work experience student.

Autumn has been working with Michelle for the past few weeks and learning about all elements of Greenstone Design’s architectural design practice.

Last week I arranged to work with Michelle to try and get some experience in architecture. I’ve always been interested in design and putting my own ideas on paper but I didn’t know how to do it professionally.

Over the course of the week I did some interesting things such as designing a house to scale and then drawing it on the computer using AutoCAD, creating a mood board from cut outs from magazines, listening in on meetings and the best thing getting to visit the straw bale site at Castle Hill primary school.


The straw bale project is by far the most amazing thing I have seen being built. It is so different from modern buildings. It was such a good thing to witness being built as I doubt I will ever get an opportunity like it again. It was great how each day we visited the site something new was going on and you got to see each stage as the project progressed.


The second time I visited the site it started to rain. This meant that all the straw had to be covered so that it didn’t get damaged.


The next day when we visited site compression had already begun. This is where ratchet straps are tightened round the straw to compress it all together making it strong.


I was nervous when Michelle asked me to design a house to scale as It looked complicated and confusing. However after playing about and getting my head around it I finally managed to design a three story house and then draw it on the laptop using AutoCAD.


On Friday I created a moodboard using cut outs from old magazines. I pinned the pictures and articles onto a huge cork board. This created a colourful and interesting thing to look at and get ideas from. This was fun to do as it brought out my creative side and allowed me to see all the amazing things people had already designed and made in the magazines.

Over the course of the week I really enjoyed myself. It was great to peer into the life of an architect and see all the things they get up to in their working routine. Although I know now that there isn’t a set routine of daily things to do and that every day is different.

Straw bale compression – finishing off the walls at Castle Hill School

05 Aug 14
Michelle Gaffaney
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The walls are up at Castle Hill School, and we’re preparing to add the roof.

Missed the wall-raising? You can read about that here.

Meanwhile work has been continuing at a pace. We’ve had a mixed bag with the weather – plenty of swelteringly hot July days, but some rainy ones too, forcing us to cover up the walls with tarpaulins. Rain and straw do not mix!

straw bale walls

Here’s Rachel adding the very last straw bale:


Once the walls are complete, the straw bale compression can begin. Firstly by tightening up the ratchet straps which have been placed at near intervals all around the walls:

Ratchet straps at the ready!

Emma and Rachel prepare to tighten the ratchet straps for the straw bale compression

As the straps are tightened, the straw walls compress, making a firm and solid base for the roof. There’s a real art to this process – the building designs state the precise height of the walls, so if the straw bales compress any more or less than expected, the wall height will not align with the building designs.

It turned out that our walls were the right height before compression, leaving us with a problem. But one of the wonderful things about straw is its flexibility – we were able to make up the shortfall with extra straw, so that after compression, the walls were the perfect height.

And we’re still on schedule. The walls have been compressed, the wall plate is now in place and we’ll be adding the roof this week!