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On a prairie north of the Ball State campus, architecture students are learning firsthand about sustainability in a house made of a building material not traditionally used in the Midwest—straw.

The Eco Center, constructed by students from the College of Architecture and Planning and Associate Professor Timothy Gray, is the first-ever load-bearing straw building in the region. Straw bales, which were acquired locally, provide support and insulation for the walls, and other sustainable materials such as laminated veneer lumber and fly ash concrete are used for the roof and floors. Solar collectors and a wind turbine provide energy for lights and heat, putting the building “off the grid.”

“We are trying to design and build the project in such a way that we have a net-zero environmental impact,” says Gray. “In other words, we plan to leave the site in as-good-as or better condition than when we started the project, and we want to demonstrate that.”

In the hands-on laboratory, students research environmentally friendly building techniques and develop and model sustainable practices. The structure also promotes awareness of green living practices to elementary school students, building professionals, and the general public.

The innovative methods used to create the Eco Center have been recognized by national organizations. The project was awarded the 2008 Merit Award for Excellence in Architectural Design from the American Institute of Architects Indiana chapter and was named one of the most innovative sustainable commercial design projects at the National Sustainable Design Expo by the Green Building Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting credible and practical approaches to green building.
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“We are trying to design and build the project in such a way that we have a net-zero environmental impact,” says Associate Professor of Architecture Timothy Gray.