Our Workshop Tutors


Sven Johnston, Principal Tutor

Sven, 43, was born in a family homestead on the south side of Denali in Alaska but spent his school-aged years in Canterbury, New Zealand. An outdoor instructor turned builder, Sven has a broad interest in alternatives to high-energy, conventional lifestyles. His creative approach to building concepts and ideas produce a product that is both beautiful and efficient.

Sven has been building in climates which vary as widely as Alaska to Hawaii and now enjoys building his family life and creative business in South Canterbury, New Zealand. Creative is the best way to describe Sven, from vegetable fuels, to heating systems and to straw bale construction, he’s bound to have some creative solutions.


Sarah Johnston, Principal Tutor

Sarah, 42, is from rural Pennsylvania, USA. Her mother, a rag rug weaver and her father, an antiques dealer brought an eclectic perspective of design during her childhood.

She has focused on sustainable design methods and materials for the past 16 years in hopes of creating both indoor and outdoor environments that works with existing site, local and occupant conditions. She has designed and consulted on many straw bale residences in Colorado, USA and now in New Zealand (since 2004). In 2000, she co-founded and was the Executive Director of the Colorado Straw Bale Association (COSBA), a non-profit promoting and educating the Colorado community in straw bale and other natural building technologies. She is currently the South Island representative for Ausbale, the Australasian Straw Bale Building Association.

Blue ForsythBlue Forsyth, Guest Lecturer

Earth Builder & Consultant, Kakariki Earth

Blue is a passionate advocate for affordable and sustainable housing, especially the use of natural materials. His special interest is in developing methods of earth and straw bale construction suited to our challenging economic and climatic conditions. He has been active in earth building for over 20 years. During this period he has worked extensively with the Historic Places Trust to help preserve our earth building heritage as well as working on many modern earth and straw bale buildings. Blue has been promoting the earth and straw bale building options through both formal and informal courses and workshops. He has recently developed and tutors a part-time Certificate course in Natural Building through the Aoraki Polytechnic in Timaru. He is currently on the committee of the Earth Building Association of NZ and in 2008 he was awarded the Elisabeth Drupsteen Award for services to earth building.
Through his company, Kakariki Earth Ltd, Blue offers a range of services to those wishing to pursue natural building options, from friendly support, education and consultation to materials testing and construction. Blue's involvement in our workshops may vary due to his current work schedule.  

Liam Flannery

Liam Flannery, Guest Lecturer


Liam Flannery has extensive experience as a solid plasterer. He started learning this trade in the UK in the mid-nineties, working with sand and cement render and thistle interior plasters.
Since returning to New Zealand in 2003, he has spent seven years plastering with Rockcote Systems on architecturally designed houses. Liam was introduced to natural clay and lime plasters by Sol Design after attending one of their workshops in 2008. He has been able to apply his extensive knowledge and expertise to create wonderful organic finishes in his work with these natural products. Liam's involvement in our workshops may vary due to his current work schedule.

Workshops & Lectures

Whether you are a homeowner builder or a seasoned builder, learn the art and science of straw bale design and construction..
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Straw bale homes

From conceptual design through to the construction process, we will guide you in creating the straw bale home you always wanted. View our portfolio...

Our Work

We love simple design solutions.  We find that they are beautiful when combined with the use of natural materials.
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