Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter by Lloyd Kahn

This unique book of homes, builders, dwellers, dreamers, and doers is the result of Lloyd Kahn's thirty-year odyssey shooting photos and gathering information about builders around the world. It is also the sequel to Kahn's best-selling book Shelter, which was published in 1973.

There are some 1100 photos and over 300 drawings, all illustrating buildings assembled with human hands.

There's a Japanese-style stilt house accessible only by going on a cable 500 feet across a river, a stone house in South Africa where baboons jump up and down on the roof at night, multilevel treehouses on the South China Sea, and a house built of bottles in the Nevada desert. There are ten pages of photos from Archlibre (countercultural builders in the French Pyrenees), a number of off-the-grid solar-powered houses in the Northern California woods, and a section on natural materials: straw bale, cob, bamboo, and log structures.

One section is on photographers who have documented handbuilt shelters of indigenous people in Africa, Asia, and South America. Another portion is devoted to "fantasy" buildings, such as artist Michael Kahn's semi-subterranean sculptural village of ferro-cement and stained glass in the Arizona desert, and the Flying Concrete lightweight curvilinear buildings on the outskirts of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. There are photos from Kahn's trips over the years: houses, barns, and small buildings in Mississippi, Nova Scotia, Nevada, Costa Rica, and Baja California.

"On the Road" documents life on the road: housetrucks and housebuses, camper shells, and tents, as well as John Stiles and his trip across America with two covered wagons pulled by 14 donkeys. "Living Lightly" covers lightweight nomadic living in America in yurts, tents, and tipis, as well as Native American dwellings.

Home Work continues the journey that started with Shelter, and is the first in Shelter Publications' new series of books about handmade buildings.

What struck me the most was that a good percentage of the homes featured were clearly quite functional for their owner-builders, but just looked messy to me - especially the cob houses. They strike me as rather too far along the housing spectrum on the "camping" side to provide practical, year round, full time living.

The story of Ian McLeod in South Africa intrigued me, not only because of his beautiful home, but because he built the entire thing while working nude. I rally just had to stop and think of the logistics of that one. IT certainly does save on laundry! After pondering it for a while I decided that working nude just wouldn't work for me - especially since a bra would be essential to keep "the girls" out of the way. Perhaps just a bra and panties would be fine - or a bikini or something, although since I am rather accident prone it might not be wise to go too light on the clothing. Also, the sunscreen involved, and the application time!, just boggles the mind!

Ma Page's bottle house in Nevada was certainly striking. Not in an "I want that" way, but more of a "how cool" way.

The stone houses and barns resonated the most with me. Perhaps because I'm a native New Englander and barns and dry stone walls are common features here. The stone houses just have a feeling of enduring strength and safety to them.

This one gets eight stars because of the sheer beauty of the photography. The collection is a bit too eclectic for me, and the book is entirely too floppy and oversized to be comfortably read, but it is still quite informative. I'll certainly look for future releases from the author.

Rating: ★★★★★★


nfmgirl said...

Thank you for this review. I've been wanting to get this book. And I DO want one of those crazy but beautiful houses!

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