Danish School Gives The World a Lesson in Sustainability: A Straw Build Full of Eco-Innovations

In the heart of Denmark, on the east end of the Central Jutland Region, lies a small town with a long tradition of sustainability. Feldballe is home to an ecovillage, where residents build their houses from renewable materials. A healthy, carbon-neutral refuge. When the local school sought to build new science labs and a classroom, maintaining that spirit was, naturally, a chief concern. To that end, Feldballe Free School found the perfect partner in Henning Larsen.

The project was a pivotal moment for the studio. A testing ground of sorts for bio-based materials. However, the result exceeded all expectations. Today, it is no exaggeration to say Feldballe is one of the most sustainable school projects in Europe. What makes it so unique?

A Rare Partnership

Henning Larsen is a renowned architectural studio with many prestigious and diverse projects to its name. A small rural school extension is not exactly a common part of the portfolio. Then again, Feldballe Free School is no common client either. Thanks to the investment from Realdania, a Danish philanthropic association, sustainability was a top priority.

Magnus Reffs Kramhøft, a senior architect at Henning Larsen, was instrumental in pushing the project ahead. A few years ago, he met Lars Keller from EcoCocon at a conference. As a strong sustainability advocate, he was in good company. Lars introduced him to the straw panel system and Magnus was quickly convinced and eager to try it out. Convincing clients and contractors, however, is a different matter entirely.

“It is very hard to integrate these great thoughts material-wise. There’s quite a big boundary, because contractors and clients feel it is a risk in a way, and that’s our big struggle,” Magnus explains.

The fact that there was no profit to be made in project Feldballe didn’t help either. Thankfully, Henning Larsen has a progressive mindset and has, in recent years, been increasingly interested in sustainable building. In the end, the project was approved with only a demand to break even.

“My argument was that we could learn a lot from it. If we asked for the same ten years ago, it would be an absolute no. But we need to develop and go in a more sustainable direction. We have a responsibility as a huge player in our field.” Magnus continues and adds: “It makes me proud of the Henning Larsen office.”

And there is a lot to be proud of, since few arguments are as convincing as a successfully realized construction. Feldballe became a milestone for Henning Larsen, who summarized the project ambitions with 5 principles for sustainable design…

Designing With the Future in Mind

  1. Bio-based materials in construction: incorporating renewable materials that sequester carbon and are sourced sustainably.
  2. Design for disassembly: simple design principles for the reuse of building components in the future.
  3. Good indoor climate: fostering an environment with good daylight levels while ensuring natural ventilation and lower energy consumption.
  4. Free of toxic chemicals: creating a healthier indoor climate with minimum off-gassing and healthier production and processing.
  5. Reuse of local materials: using already produced materials, saving resources and energy.

These five dogmas make up a framework for designing with planetary health in mind. Some are tricky to implement, as they require smart decisions during the design phase. In the case of Feldballe, special care was taken to integrate design for disassembly as one of the primary parameters.

Thanks to EcoCocon straw panels, things were made easy. Modular wall segments are screwed together and use no glue. Retrieving them for further use in the future will be a simple task.

Martha Lewis, Henning Larsen’s expert on sustainability and materials, has spoken at length about design for disassembly and circularity standards. Learn more on our previous blog.

A Recipe for Sustainability: It’s All About the Ingredients

A remarkable feature of the Feldballe project is the near exclusive utilization of bio-based materials. Each product was carefully selected for its indoor climate characteristics as well as global warming potential (GWP).

Linoleum by Forbo Flooring Systems was a natural choice for the floor. Both figuratively and literally. Forbo’s Marmoleum Walton is produced from rapidly renewable sources - linseed oil, wood flour, jute - and uses the glue with the lowest off-gassing. A smooth, yet resistant natural surface.

Resort Owners, Agritourism, Backyard Accommodation, Builders, Architects, Project Managers and Developers.
Let's work together

Let's work


Come along with us as we embark on a path of innovation, aiming for unrivalled energy efficiency and minimal environmental footprint.