© Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Greg Hoy
A Melbourne-based inventor and artist Joost Bakker may have the solution for an affordable bushfire-proof house, and it’s made of straw.
CHRIS UHLMANN, PRESENTER: In this land of bushfires, the challenge of how to build an affordable fire-proof house has confounded Australians for generations. Now a Melbourne artist-cum-inventor believes he may have found the answer, and guess what?: it’s a house made of straw. Just one of many bright ideas from a very unusual architect, as Greg Hoy reports.
GREG HOY, REPORTER: This is the first green house that Joost built. Stripped of its greenery, the CSIRO tried to burn it down. Soon we’ll see if they succeeded, but first, who is this Joost whose fame is spreading across the country like wildfire?
JOOST BAKKER: Human beings are amazing at fixing problems. And there’s lots of problems in the world, but there’s lots of solutions as well.
GREG HOY: Joost Bakker is a 38-year-old from Melbourne – artist, builder, inventor and ideas man.
ROBERT RICHTER, CRIMINAL LAWYER: I mean, the man’s a genius.
JACK THOMPSON, ACTOR: He’s a man also with a recognition of the waste that we make. Here we are with one foot on the moon and the other one knee-deep in garbage.
GREG HOY: Joost loves recycling waste, now backed by global engineering firm Arup, which structurally designed Sydney’s Opera House, his green houses, steel-framed, the walls and roof insulated with straw bales, have now popped up as organic restaurants for guest appearances in the heart of Sydney, Melbourne and permanently in Perth.
JOOST BAKKER: Straw is still the biggest waste product on earth. We could be using it for cardboard, we could be using it for paper, we could be using it for toilet paper. Six million hectares of forest get cut down every year just for toilet paper.
GREG HOY: Not your average restaurants; everything from building, plates to the jam jar glasses is recycled. Even the toilet waste.
JACK THOMPSON: The greenhouse is an extraordinary example of not only recycling, but a self-sustaining cycle where the food that you’re eating is being grown on the roof, the waste is being used to recycle.
JOOST BAKKER: It’s just an installation and I’m hoping that people get inspired and create different things. So when schoolkids come through, I tell them, “In 10 years’ time I want to walk into a building that you guys have designed and go, ‘Jeez, what was I thinking? This is 10 times better.’”
GREG HOY: He started out as a florist, but not your average florist.
JOOST BAKKER: Wasn’t just about the flower, it was about the stem or it was – I was more interested in the ones that had fallen over and where – I found them more beautiful than the perfect straight ones, you know. I turned things around, I turned things upside down and contrast them with found objects and found materials and that led me more into recycling yards.
FRANK VAN HANDEL, RESTAURATEUR: He actually hang clumps of tulips with the bulbs in tact upside down from the ceiling and I was just in awe of how – the simplicity, but the effectiveness of it all.
GREG HOY: There are many staunch supporters across Melbourne and its fine dining establishment. At the top of the Rialto Tower resides acclaimed Australian chef Shannon Bennett’s Vue de Monde.
SHANNON BENNETT, CHEF: We have this sort of running joke that he’s my florist. But he’s more than that. He’s my design technician in many ways. … Everything in terms of what I put on the floor from the timber, to the kangaroo lever on the tables was something that I always bounced off Joost first.
GREG HOY: Frank van Handel of Melbourne’s iconic Stoke House where Joost has long done the flowers.
FRANK VAN HANDEL: He’s a guy that – the old saying, “You can’t make strawberry jam out of horse manure.” Well, Joost can.
GREG HOY: Floristry morphed into sculpture, architecture, restaurants with a thousand other interests intertwined. As anyone will tell you, to spend an hour with Joost is to leave your head spinning with possibilities.
ROBERT RICHTER: He’s got enormous energy. He’s a man who can work through for 48 hours non-stop. So he’s got vast drive.
JENNY BAKER, WIFE: We work 24/7 basically to do all of these crazy things that we’re doing. And, yeah, when you’ve got three kids and a husband with far too many ideas, it can be quite tiring at times.
GREG HOY: Meantime, back at the ranch, or the original greenhouse Joost had built for he and his young family. Interest in this construction concept for housing and other such developments had been growing exponentially across the country. But a straw bale house in the middle of a country bedevilled by bushfire? Surely this was courting disaster. Well that’s when the CSIRO came in to give the greenhouse, minus its greenery, a baptism of fire.
JOOST BAKKER: I didn’t think it was going to survive.
GREG HOY: But clad in sheets of fire-proof magnesium oxide, which is cheap as chips in China, but not available for sale in the bushfire capital, Australia, survive this blaze the greenhouse did with flying colours.
JOOST BAKKER: When you get a building that’s so well-insulated, it means that you’re not needing to cool it as much, you don’t need to heat it as much. So we’ve used something that’s cost us hardly anything, a by-product from a farm, and created a place that uses very little energy.
GREG HOY: Vue de Monde’s Shannon Bennett is using Joost’s technology to build a hotel retreat in the fire-prone Dandenong Ranges and a home by the sea for his family.
SHANNON BENNETT: Australia should listen. I think it’s very exciting for Australia, and also could be an amazing export to Third World countries.
GREG HOY: The road for Joost Bakker and his family has not been easy.
JOOST BAKKER: We’ve been very close to going completely under.
GREG HOY: But with invitations rolling in to build greenhouses in London, Copenhagen, New York, Shanghai, Auckland, even South America, the future, as usual for Joost, seems bright.
JOOST BAKKER: It’s all about collaboration. I think that’s why the future’s so exciting. If we all work together, there’s plenty of solutions out there.
CHRIS UHLMANN: So you can huff and puff and not blow down that house of straw. Extraordinary. Greg Hoy there.