One of the first large projects undertaken by Vital Systems was a stand alone classroom for the East Bay Waldorf School. We worked with English architect Christopher Day and Berkeley architect Greg VanMechelen. When people visit the classroom for the first time, they first notice the lack of right angles. The earth-plastered walls follow the undulations of the straw bales behind them. In his book Places of the Soul, Christopher Day describes how different it is to stand in a room like this rather than a square box. This classroom has inspired both our design and construction processes for all our projects since.
Vital Systems worked with the Marin Waldorf School to create a vision for how the school can better reflect Waldorf principles in its architecture. As an initial project, we helped to create a new garden shed. The structure includes a tool shed and an overhanging roof to provide protection to two curving cob benches. To create this sculptural building, a range of natural building materials were used, including recycled wood from a dismantled play structure, gravel-filled bags, cob and strawbales.
At 18,000 square feet, the Ridge Winery is the largest commercial strawbale building in the US. Designed by Freebairn Smith & Crane of San Francisco, the building emulates a California barn with a central gabled structure and wraparound closed-in porch, but it is twice the scale. The multipurpose building includes wine making facilities, barrel storage, cased goods storage, pantry, rest rooms, a tasting room and offices. Vital Systems consulted and did all the work associated with the bales — from the toe up through to the plastering of the building. The Ridge Winery project is a model for what natural builders can achieve at the commercial level.
Vital Systems worked together with DeBoer Architects to design and build a 1200 square foot home within an apple orchard. This home features a highly functional passive solar design and many artistic finish details. It is an excellent example of a code-approved natural home.
Nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills sits a modest and beautifully detailed 1,500 square foot strawbale home, designed by Arkin-Tilt Architects of Berkeley and Tim Owen-Kennedy of Vital Systems. The floors are tiled with slate, while the walls are finished with earthen plaster both inside and out. All of the finish timber was harvested and milled from the construction site.