Beyond the bale

Sarah Wigglesworth was commended with Around & About Stock Orchard Street, a study based on the ideas and context of her idiosyncratic house

‘It aims to situate the building in a broader cultural context, exploring the many conversations engaged by architecture, to examine the extended field in which architecture is situated and produced’

Around & About Stock Orchard Street documents a building project that is itself research-in-action – 9/10 Stock Orchard Street, colloquially known as the straw bale house. Its aim is to show how architecture is a process, tracing the changes that take place in building from conception through its evolving occupation and wear. While it is a book about architecture, it does not deal principally with the building as a visual or historical object. Rather, it aims to situate the building in a broader cultural context, exploring the many conversations engaged by architecture, to examine the extended field in which architecture is situated and produced. 

Intending to show architecture’s richness, the book drills down beneath the discipline to reveal the myriad aspects that underpin the conception, making and understanding of the built environment. It makes a wide range of material on the project available (drawings, gantt chart, photographs, data) and is not afraid to explain the theoretical intentions behind the design or to assess aspects that might be deemed negative (such as the building’s energy use). It deliberately aims to cross the divide between professional and amateur, and, by containing information of all different kinds, to appeal to experts in the field, students and interested lay readers alike. 

The buildings at 9/10 Stock Orchard Street are the starting point for a discussion on theory, practice, education, material culture, narrative, sustainability, media, authorship, information and communication technology, feminism, finance, landscape and insurance – many of the issues that influence the making and reception of contemporary architecture. This is an interesting moment, when capitalism is under threat, peak oil has been reached and climate change is an issue, when the future of our cities is being examined and computer technology is transforming our lives. The book explores the connections between the ideas behind the project and some of these issues, including the contingent aspects inherent in the making of a design – which is to say, the messy translation from theory to practice and back again. The book itself mirrors the unpredictable nature of practice, enjoying the oscillation between control and accident, while still attempting to produce a coherent narrative and a beautiful object. 

I invited a group of contributors to set out their ideas ‘around and about’ the building. Some were connected with the project and had intimate knowledge of it. Some had shown interest in specific aspects while others were experts in areas beyond my own expertise or interests. One essay provides feedback on energy data and offers a commentary on the ‘greenness’ of the building in the current context. Punctuating the texts are short essays by people with some involvement in the building and photos that record the building’s changes over the 10 years it has been occupied. Duffy designed the book, clarifying and amplifying its message.


Sarah Wigglesworth is an architect and educator