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Polish Architecture Grzegorz Gorski; I believe the historical sculpted rock houses of Cappadocia are providing very important lessons to architecture.

Polish Architecture Grzegorz Gorski; I believe the historical sculpted rock houses of Cappadocia are providing very important lessons to architecture.

Interview: Eda Elif Tibet


Photos: Grzegorz Gorski


Polish architect Grzegorz Gorski is an idealist working on ecological architecture. He uses simple materials like; straw bales, earth, and renewable wood in his work. The idea that livable houses can be created with such materials, might sound bizarre, extreme or even utopic to you. However, one can not finish to mention the lists of its’ beauties; firstly these houses are safe and they are reluctant to fire and earthquakes much more then the iron-concrete houses. With high heat isolation the energy use is almost zero. They are healthy, and they can be made to very low costs. And the best part of all, if you wish you can even take part in the making of your own house construction.

This article starts with the conversation being made between Grzegorz Gorski and Eda Elif Tibet whom we know from her documentary film she made on Cappadocia; “28 Days on the Moon”. The article provides information on how these sympathetic houses are being made, by touching upon the architecture of Cappadocia, the article ends with thoughts and ideas on whether these straw bale houses are adaptable and coherent to the region. So, decide for yourself, if you think these houses can be an alternative way to overcome the negative housing formations that has become a nightmare for the country.


Eda Elif Tibet: Grzegorz brief biography, who you are what you do?

Grzegorz Gorski: I am an architect, graduated from Wroclaw Politechnic in Poland in 2006. After graduation I worked for an architectural company in Oxford, UK dealing mostly with restructuring, converting and extending residential buildings privately and college owned. Many of them were impressive brick build Victorian houses and stone build country cottages of 100 and more years old.


Eda Elif Tibet: How did you get involved in earth-straw bale architecture?

Grzegorz Gorski: After some time of drafting plans for houses constructed with bricks and concrete blocks I realised that there must be alternative materials one can use and I came across the straw bale construction. In 2010 I attended Ecobuild (the world's biggest event for sustainable design, construction and the built environment) where I saw for the very first time a demonstration of the process of building a straw-bale wall. The builder was one of the UK pioneers in straw-bale construction. I found her presentation very inspiring and from then on I started browsing the Internet and reading books about the topic.


Eda Elif Tibet: Is this a new movement? Where and when did it start?

Grzegorz Gorski: The first straw bale houses were built in the USA in Nebraska by European settlers. Because of the lack of wood and other building materials needed for their homes, they had to improvise. Using the newly invented horse-powered straw-baling machine, they gathered the grass from the surrounding area and they made bales which they piled up creating walls. The walls were plastered with mud afterwards on the outside, as well as on the inside. This created very habitable warm houses which lasted for even a century. The technique was used up to the beginning of the industrial revolution when brick and concrete eliminated the use of straw bales. Nevertheless, the 1980 brought a revival of the straw bale constructions accompanied by publications and conferences as the interest started spreading in the USA and later on in Europe (particularly France, Germany, Austria, UK).


Eda Elif Tibet: How did you become part of such movement?

Grzegorz Gorski: After my first contact with straw-bale building at Ecobuild in 2010, I started searching for training opportunities in this field. In the summer of 2011, I attended two workshops, one in Poland and the other in Romania. For the first workshop we were working on a post and beam wooden structure house in which walls and roof were in-filled with straw-bales and plastered with earthen plaster. For the second workshop I worked on a rather different house. This was a load-bearing construction where the bales support the weight of the roof without traditional wooden structure. Straw bales inside the wall were compressed to the maximum giving them load-bearing properties.


Eda Elif Tibet: What is environmental friendly architecture?

Grzegorz Gorski: Environmental friendly architecture is one that uses natural and local materials which require a minimum of energy for production and transportation. These are also materials that could be reused in case the building gets disassembled. It is an architecture that is passive solar using energy generated by the sun for heating and even for producing electricity for the building functionality. Apart from solar energy, water is another value that is collected and used without necessity of sourcing it from the grid. Eco-architecture does not create waste at any of its life stage, be it construction, use or demolition.


Eda Elif Tibet: What are the benefits of straw-bale buildings?

Grzegorz Gorski: Straw-bale walls have great thermal insulation which makes the houses warm in winter and cool in summer with minimum or no heating/cooling systems. On the long run, you will be saving up to 75% of what you would normally spend for temperature maintenance.

You also have the possibility of reducing the construction costs by using help from family, friends, or volunteers. Building with straw and earth is safe, easy and accessible to anyone. Even your children could get involved and they would have a lot of fun playing with mud

Straw-bale houses have a favourable micro climate resulting from their high vapour permeability and low moisture sorption (clay regulates indoor air humidity by absorbing excess moisture and releasing it when the air becomes too dry).

Living in a straw-bale house has important health benefits: there is a reduced risk of allergies from airborne molds, pollens, or toxins associated with the modern chemical paints and finishing materials. Straw-bale walls also offer protection from harmful electromagnetic field radiations.

Using local materials such as straw and earth significantly lowers the building costs.

Producing materials such as concrete, bricks, or steel requires a lot of energy consumption which creates pollution. Using natural materials instead, such as straw or earth will lower your impact on the environment.

Producing straw involves growing grain plants which absorb Co2 emissions, having a positive effect on the environment. Moreover, straw is a by-product of the agricultural industry which would often be considered waste, being burned or left to rot.

Straw-bale houses have high fire-resistance. Laboratory tests have shown that a straw bale wall will resist fire for over 2h. This happens because of the lack of air inside the compressed bales plastered with 3-5 cm of earth or lime plaster. 

A straw-bale house offers great resistance to earthquakes, as its' structure is flexible and absorbs the seismic movements.

You will have a quiet living space, as the thick walls offer great sound resistance.

The antistatic properties of clay plasters are another advantage, they make it easy to keep a house dust free.

Eda Elif Tibet: What other ecological solutions do you incorporate in your design?
Grzegorz Gorski: It will be long to describe all of them, but I will just quickly list the most popular solutions and systems used in ecological architecture:

·         car tires filled with rammed earth as foundation or retaining walls,

·         low impact gravel trench foundations,

·         straw bales as a thermal insulation and/or structure (that we already know),

·         adobe bricks for internal walls as thermal storage mass,

·         recycled timber or locally grown timber,

·         roof insulation from a variety of materials: straw bale, wool, cellulose, wood fibre, hemp fibre, basaltic fibre, reed or straw mats,

·         green roofs, not only beautiful but also insulating, retaining water, absorbing CO2, introducing, biodiversity,

·         wooden shingles, straw, or reed as an alternative roof finishes
earthen plasters and lime plasters,

·         rain water storage systems to provide free water for the home use,

·         double or triple glazed windows to reduce heat lost,

·         masonry heaters,

·         solar and photovoltaic panels,

·         solar orientation to use solar energy for heating the building.


The design process is very important and should be preceded by observing the site for an entire year. Typical wind direction and rain-fall should be taken into account in order to determine the best layout of the house. As a general rule, the southern side of your house should have large windows in order to allow the sun to enter. Heat can be stored by ensuring that the floors or walls which are exposed to the sun are made out of good thermal mass materials (materials that can store heat, such as stone, bricks or adobe). This will minimise the heating costs. The sides of the house more frequently exposed to wind and rain should have larger overhanging roofs in order to lead the water away from the building. There are many other rules that one should follow in order to design a house that would work well, in a sustainable way, without much energy input and without much waste.


Eda Elif Tibet: When was your first visit to Cappadocia and what were your thoughts about the landscape, architecture, and recent issues?

Grzegorz Gorski: First time I came to Cappadocia in 2010 and, probably like everyone arriving there for the very first time, I was overwhelmed with the moon-like scenery. As I started to explore the region more and to learn about its’ history, I was impressed with the habitats of the early Christians who created hidden settlements in the mountain valleys and even carved out underground cities.

Eda Elif Tibet: Has Cappadocia inspired you in your work or what kind of impression you got regarding your profession?

Grzegorz Gorski: It was quite an amazing discovery for me as an architect when I saw that houses can be in opposite to build, subtracted from the materials existing in the environment, in this case, volcanic tuff. There were all the architectural elements in those houses: floors, walls, roofs, windows and doors, but no one has built them. Like Michelangelo once said: Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. In this case those architectural elements have always been there inside tufa, but people only discovered them by carving out their homes.

I think the Cappadocian dwellings have a very valuable architectural lesson to teach us. They show how people can build their homes with almost no impact on the environment. Instead of adding intrusive structures to the landscape, the dwellings they built gracefully blend in with the surrounding environment.


Eda Elif Tibet: What do you think about the recent developments in Cappadocia regarding the increase of iron-concrete hotel constructions?

Grzegorz Gorski: Cappadocia is an amazing place first created by nature and then touched by nearly 2000 years of symbiotic human inhabitants. It is a shame that recently this harmony collapsed and the human took over. With the industrialisation of construction we experience completely new elements. Modern villas and hotels build with concrete, steel and glass damage the landscapes in unforgivable way. They pierce our eyes with their ugliness and roughness. We can no longer enjoy the pleasure of the former atmosphere of this place. It is a shame that authorities allow that and instead of preserving the site encourage the construction of such ghastly concrete hotels that have damaging impact on the site. If the situation doesn’t reverse, further generations won’t have the chance to experience Cappadocia the way it was known till now.


Eda Elif Tibet: In what alternative ways, these projects could have been done? How could they have become more environmental friendly?

Grzegorz Gorski: In my opinion, the authorities should rather focus on preserving the site as it is and if it’s necessary to build new objects, they should be designed in such a way that they don't interfere with the natural landscape, they use natural materials which are sustainable and don't produce waste. In Western Europe you can find many examples of modern ecological architecture which not only does not give bad impact on the environment, but can also improve its’ quality. The buildings can be designed in a sustainable way and it means that they not only use ecological materials but can function without being connected to the water/power sources. These buildings are capable of providing their users with enough energy and they recover rain water not only for washing but even for drinking. They don't need energy input to heat or cool them because the insulation and ventilation is designed in the way that there is no heat escaping in winter or overheating in summer. Fitted with the green roof they can also improve the quality of air around and contribute to an increase in local biodiversity. Building with earth would also have the aesthetic advantage of blending in with the surrounding environment. Earth is very versatile and it allows for shaping a building in a way that will resonate with the Fairy Chimneys.


Eda Elif Tibet: Why do you think such heritage sites should be protected at the first hand?
Gorski: They should be protected because they are unique and they are beautiful examples of the diversity of the natural and cultural worlds. Sites such as Cappadocia that lasted for so many centuries should not become the victims of reckless modern development ambitions.


Eda Elif Tibet: Why steel concrete is creating pollution, and what are the other factors reasons for it not being environmental friendly?

Grzegorz Gorski: Steel and concrete are commonly used in construction because they increase durability of the buildings. It makes them "safe". Buildings made of them will last for centuries. The question is if they are really safe or if we really want to see them that long. I don't totally reject concrete as it can be used to stabilise the building at 2 most fragile points: foundation and bond beam. Otherwise I would restrain from overusing concrete as it is material that involves a high energy consumption and contributes to an increase in CO2 and other gases in the atmosphere. Between 8-20% (according to different sources) of overall CO2 emission is due to concrete production. On the other hand, concrete once produced stays in its form and can't be reused, it doesn't disintegrate ending up overloading the landfill once it’s not needed any more.


Eda Elif Tibet: Would a straw bale house, clay, earth house be appropriate to fit in the landscape of Cappadocia or further Anatolia?

Grzegorz Gorski: Climate in Cappadocia is quite cold in winter so there is necessity of well insulated houses. Earth finishes are suitable for any climate as long as it is not too wet. And earth? What would be more suitable to use in the area where people have lived in volcanic earth homes for centuries. There is no better solution than the combination of straw and earth with a little help from wood and stone. Houses made of such materials would naturally blend in with the landscape and they will last for as long as they are needed. Abandoned, without owners or maintenance, they would disintegrate without an impact on the nature that will reclaim the land.

Eda Elif Tibet: How costly and how feasible are these houses?

Grzegorz Gorski: There is a big span of the cost of eco-houses. It depends on many factors but self-build 60m2 house can cost as little as 10 000 euro. There are ways to reduce the costs. Straw bale construction is reasonably easy to do so you could do some of the work yourself with help from family and friends. For the timber you can consider recycled timber from the local demolished site. This is not only cheaper, but also more eco as it reduces the need of cutting new trees. You should focus on finding materials locally as it reduces cost and transport pollution. You can also use recycled windows or car windshields and colourful glass bottles to create fixed windows. Everything depends on your creativity and your budget but even with a small budget, a beautiful, fully functional ecological house can be build. You would love it a lot more if you actually take part in the design and building process.

Eda Elif Tibet: Why should people prefer these houses instead of iron-concrete so called modern ones, can you tell us the benefits or any disadvantages, difficulties if any.
Gorski: There are only advantages and the list of them we've already covered.


Eda Elif Tibet: In terms of human-environment relationships what can these houses provide to people?

Grzegorz Gorski: People are part of the nature. Living in natural houses would only bring back the balance and harmony that once was lost.

Eda Elif Tibet: Can you give us some of your favourite worldwide examples, if applied in other heritage sites?

Grzegorz Gorski: Danube Delta is one of the heritage sites where the authorities try to regulate the architectural development. I know of a few examples of successful projects in the area which use local materials and follow the traditional architectural style. My favourite would probably be the Anonimul touristic complex, a camping and hotel site which hosts a yearly international film festival. It is located in Sf. Gheorghe village and the buildings comprising the complex complement very well the vernacular architecture and the surrounding natural environment.


Eda Elif Tibet: As an architect, how could you assist if there was such demand on obtaining natural homes, from the Turkish people?

Grzegorz Gorski: I am ready to share my knowledge and experience with local authorities or with any people willing to learn about eco-building or preparing to build their own eco-house. I can offer my help with a design, consulting or supervising the building process. I can also coordinate straw-bale building workshops and help spreading the knowledge among Turkish eco-enthusiasts.

Reading Reading: 17262 Eklenme Tarihi Date: 2013-08-11
Adobe bricks
Adobe bricks

Earthsafe design
Earthsafe design


Grzegorz Gorski
Grzegorz Gorski
Danube Delta Project
Danube Delta Project
Danube Delta Project
Danube Delta Project
Danube Delta Project
Danube Delta Project
Danube Delta Project
Danube Delta Project
Danube Delta Project
Danube Delta Project

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