SonnenKlee interview with Nicola Preti

Nicola Preti, architect and specialist in natural building, Verona (IT)

Nicola is an architect, living in Verona, and he has been designing buildings from natural materials such as wood, straw, hemp and clay for 7 years. He knows how to bring the design and function of buildings together in an intelligent way and he creates healthy and sustainable living space for his customers. We are very pleased that he is answering our interview questions.

SonnenKlee: Can you briefly describe what you do?

Nicola: I have been an architect since 2006 and for about 7 years I have been exclusively involved in designing buildings using natural materials because I believe it is the smarter future for my clients‘ homes.

SonnenKlee: Why is communication important for an architect?

Nicola: In 2012, I decided to open my own business and began to review my business as a designer. I took a trip to Holland because I was looking for a country with businesses based on creativity, innovation and ecology. It was my moment of rebirth. I understood the importance of communication: designing in the Netherlands is half of the preparation of the product. The other half of the preparation is selling. There is no project without its presentation and communication plan. This is how I came to build the private group „Committenti Coraggiosi” (Brave Clients), which today involves more than 100 private clients, and I also involve over 300 participants in my free conferences on straw houses.

SonnenKlee: Why is the use of natural building materials so important and why do you use them in your projects?

Nicola: Today, after 7 years of designing with natural materials, I am still amazed by the properties of wood, the colours of clay, the scent of a straw wall. The result is a design method that has fixed times and costs, and that has not inferior to anything else “traditional” systems, or more tested ones, such as cement, polystyrene and plastic materials. I believe that natural materials are important in architecture because the building sector is one of the most polluting industries in the world and it will have a decisive role in addressing climate change. Secondly, houses built with natural materials are healthy. More and more, houses cause respiration disease for the people living inside them. That is why I prefer to use materials that don’t have a negative impact on the health of people.

SonnenKlee: Is it difficult to find customers who want to build their home with natural building materials?

Nicola: I discovered that it is not difficult to find clients interested in natural homes if you work a lot to inform them. People need to understand and to know what they are going to pay for. A house is a great investment in the life of a person or of a family. I don’t deal with clients that are friends or acquaintances. I prefer to work with clients that have read my web content or have seen the video of my Youtube channel. After they understand the qualities of a straw house, it is easy to gain their confidence.

SonnenKlee: As we have provided SonnenKlee organic construction straw for several of your projects, we know that you have built some straw houses with the wood construction company Carpenteria Ferrari. How important is it for a straw house project to find the right suppliers with experience and what are the most important skills from such partners?

It is fundamental, 100%!

Having a construction company and a supplier that are structured, competent and equipped, is a guarantee for the clients. Before being a cost, a straw house is an investment of around 300-500,000 euros. For this reason it is important to entrust the dream of a natural home not to improvised construction companies, but to companies that have an internal technical office, and carpentry teams trained specifically on wooden buildings. As I always say, a straw house is first digitally built with bits and then in reality it is built with atoms, to quote Nicholas Negroponte.

SonnenKlee: What are currently the biggest obstacles and difficulties encountered when building with straw and clay in Italy?

Nicola: The biggest obstacle is untrained clients who don’t trust designers, and want to do it by themselves, or who rely on friends, without first checking their skills. Straw houses is a very special sector. Specialized and competent technicians are needed, starting with the designers.

SonnenKlee: How has straw construction business developed in Italy since the European Straw Bale Gathering 2017 in Venice?

Nicola: In the last 4 years straw houses in Italy have developed a lot. I remember that at the beginning, straw houses were mostly associated with the idea of self construction. Later on, with the development of designers and construction builders, straw houses have become more and more industrialized and high quality certified. Nowadays, from my point of view, the standard of straw houses is industrial prefabrication, passive design and health control. I believe there is still a lot of experience to be gained, but certainly in Italy there are technicians and construction companies who can keep up and foster a great further development.

SonnenKlee: I have read that you built a straw house in an earthquake area. Are houses made of straw and wood really earthquake-proof?

Nicola: Absolutely, the structure of my houses are calculated to resist earthquakes, as required by Italian law. Together with Carpenteria Ferrari and the structural engineers, we developed a modular prefabricated wall and roof that is very simple to build, and at the same time has a very rich design concept. It can be described with the famous sentence “less is more”. We spent many hours with the executive project , in order to have a modular structure that is resistant, transportable, light and flexible, and naturally resistant to earthquakes. Great attention in this phase is focused on the quality of materials, on the sizing of wood resistant sections and on steel connections, in accordance with the engineer and the carpentry. The main details to be developed for earthquake resistance are the connection between the foundation and the walls, and the bracing of the walls.

SonnenKlee: Can natural building materials also be used for the renovation of old buildings?

Nicola: Of course, they can. For example, when you have to build an elevation of a building, and you need to have a light structure, you should use natural materials that have a lower weight than, for example, cement. The second fact is that old buildings are mostly made with natural materials (wood, clay, reed, …) so using natural materials is the most correct solution in order to respect the original construction method. In the city centre of Verona, we renovated an ancient historical building with a wall in wood and hemp. The structure had stone walls and wood flooring, so the new wall had to be really elastic and adaptable. Wood and hemp in that case were a perfect solution. We habitually use natural materials also to refurbish apartments or houses, and the result is really great,

SonnenKlee: Is there anything else, you want to share with our readers?

Nicola: The 3 things you need to plan right away to start your adventure of a straw house without it becoming a nightmare are:

  1. the budget you need to have available
  2. the professionals you need to contact
  3. the design process with the timing to have the house finished

My advice for a perfect straw house is always to spend more time at the beginning to gather the right information, and only after that to start the path to, actually building it!

Dear Nicola, thank you very much for the interesting and informative conversation!

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