SABIT: New Friends in Russia, Ukraine and Tajikistan

David loves to share his passion for design, so when we got a call from the U.S. Department of Commerce, we were intrigued to say the least. Tanner Johnson introduced himself as an International Trade Specialist in need of a speaker for the Denver-Boulder stop of the Special American Business Internship Training Program (SABIT).

The Topic: Energy Efficiency and Renewables for Residential and Commercial Construction

The People: 18 architects and engineers from Russia, Ukraine, and Tajikistan. Plus Tanner and two Russian/English Interpreters.

SABIT group photo

The 2017 SABIT delegation on a three-week tour. This stop, Barrett Studio Architects and Dushanbe Tea House.

Each business leader made it through a competitive application process to be selected for SABIT. For the past 20 years, SABIT has been promoting international economic development and the formation of business ties by hosting delegations of international executives in the United States. This tour is three weeks long with stops in Washington DC, Denver/Boulder CO, and Portland OR.

David put on his best Russian accent, voicing a hearty YES! (Not really, that would be embarrassing.)

Seriously…we were ON for this. Especially because one of our Studio’s favorite projects of all time is the Dushanbe Friendship Center in Tajikistan.

Opening day of the Dushanbe Friendship Center and Cyber-Café in 2008.

Opening day of the Dushanbe Friendship Center and Cyber-Café in 2008. The Friendship Center was a reciprocal gift to Dushanbe from the City of Boulder – an expression of thanks to Dushanbe for its gift of the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse in 1998.

David’s presentation to the group hit many of the topics that have become our expertise over the past 40 years:

  • Think Globally, Design Locally
  • Listening to Nature’s Clues
  • Solar Collection
  • Design with Site and Climate
  • Small is Beautiful
  • Build with Innovative Systems
  • Daylight is Good for Us
  • Create and Sustain Vital Mixed Use Neighborhoods and Cities
  • Celebrate Connection with Nature, and with Each Other
Hands Up for Straw Bale!

We were surprised what generated the most questions and interest during the presentation: Straw Bale structures.

David began with a reference to the children’s story of the Three Little Pigs (David did get confirmation from his audience that the Three Little Pigs story IS universal.) As you remember, in this fable the straw home is easily blown over by the Big Bad Wolf.  Luckily, the straw structures built these days do not suffer that fate.


One of our early explorations in straw bale is Home of Straw


SABIT Home of Straw

Another straw bale project was a kindergarten for Shining Mountain Waldorf School in Boulder. This was an opportunity for community building, as parents and kids hoisted bales.

SABIT-Shining Mountain

SABIT Shining Mountain

SABIT Shining Mountain

What people wanted to know about straw bale construction…

Question: Will this kind of home burn more quickly in a fire?

Answer: No, these kinds of homes are MORE fire resistant than standard construction. Three times more resistant according to this article.

Question: How do you prevent fire in a straw bale structure?

Answer: A tight straw bale keeps airflow outside of the bale and since fire needs oxygen to burn, the bale might smolder but won’t burst into flames (similar to a cigarette.) In addition, bales are surrounded on both sides by stucco which is made with cement. Cement is excellent for fire resistance.

Question: Is straw the same thing as hay?

Answer: No, straw is the leftover stalk of a cereal crop such as oats, barley, wheat, or rye after harvesting has removed the seed heads. Straw is a hollow tube that has many uses, including insulation.

An excellent day together

If you’re wondering…the presentation, question and answers were all translated between Russian and English by two interpreters who travel with the group. We were AMAZED at their skill. And David did a REALLY good job slowing his speaking and pausing for the translators to do their job. He was an excellent comrade!

SABIT Collage

After the slideshow wrapped up, the group presented David and the staff with gifts from their countries (Yes, including vodka!) So touching, their appreciation.

SABIT gifts

We sincerely want to thank Tanner and the SABIT program for selecting Barrett Studio Architects to be part of their program. One comment received as we said our goodbyes was that our presentation was refreshingly authentic.