• santa cruz straw bale entrance
    • santa cruz straw bale deck
    • santa cruz straw bale from park
    • santa cruz straw bale dining room
    • santa cruz straw bale branch
    • santa cruz straw bale window seat
    • santa cruz straw bale stair hall
    • santa cruz straw bale book shelves
    • santa cruz straw bale hall
    • santa cruz straw bale bath

Santa Cruz Straw Bale Home

Santa Cruz, CA

Avid surfers and professors of Biology and Environmental Studies, our clients wanted to push the ecological envelope while providing a fun, comfortable house for their family of six, along with a second unit for rental or aging parents. Situated in a dense residential neighborhood in Santa Cruz, CA, the site borders a linear park that follows a creek two blocks to the ocean. The exuberant south facade and generous terraces play off the lively public space while taking advantage of the western shading of the creek-side sycamore trees. The street-side presence is more subdued with smaller glimpses of the lively spaces within through a thick, insulating straw-bale wall.

Combining cutting-edge mechanical technology with natural building techniques, passive solar strategies, and locally sourced elements, this house is designed for net-zero energy and minimal carbon footprint. Straw-bale walls wrap the north and west, while the wood framed south wall opens up to the sun, bringing daylight deep into the living space via extensive glazing. The spacious, naturally ventilated 2-story space is accentuated with the natural branching of a madrone tree, and counter-balanced by an intimate living space with a bay rotated towards the park.

Each space serves several functions, shifting and changing with the seasons as light and shadow play through it. To wit, the exposed framing in the stairwell becomes a bookcase display, and a built-in bench off the upper hall marks the entry below. The building's carbon impact is reduced through the use of salvaged doors, interior windows, and flooring as well as driftwood pickets and a driftwood column at the entry. Open and intimate, flexible and efficient, budget-conscious, and playful in overall form and detail, this house speaks to the specificity of its place, reflecting the consciousness and vibe of its urban Santa Cruz site.

Awards and Publications

The Wall Street Journal, "Luxury Homes for Animal Lovers", January 2015

Fine Homebuilding, Best New Home, 2012
Environmental Design + ConstructionExcellence in Design Award, 2011
City of Santa Cruz Green Building Award

Dwell, "Gotta Bale," October 2012
Environmental Design + Construction, "The Envelope, Please" July 2011
Builder, "Straw House, Rock-Solid Efficiency," January 2012

Design Team

Project Manager: Nadia Khan
Contractor: Susskind Builders
Photographer: Edward Caldwell