Angus Wyman Macdonald: Professional Earth Sheltered Architecture

One of Angus Wyman Macdonald's fondest dreams is to share enough knowledge about earth-sheltered architecture with his neighbors to enable them to design and build their own energy-efficient homes.

| January/February 1981

Through an unfortunate set of circumstances, many people have come to assume that architects (and architecture) have little to do with the construction of dwellings within reach of the budgets of average families. Instead, we often assume that such artists design spectacular and expensive (but not necessarily useful ) structures such as the St. Louis Arch. Or—far less happily—chrome buildings with exploding windows and column-supported skyscrapers that promise to tip over in an earthquake ... and produce wind-tunnel-effect tornadoes at street level until they do!

That's a shame really! Because, as MOTHER EARTH NEWS was recently reminded, architects—the ones with what we might call "right minds," can be indispensable in helping others learn to live more comfortably for less in earth sheltered architecture and other sorts of energy-efficient buildings most readers of this magazine would prefer.

Angus Wyman Macdonald is a Yale University Master Architect who chose his path early in his schooling (he can't even recall when he decided to become an architect! ). The central emphasis of his studies was on low-cost, energy-efficient construction ... and his master's thesis involved designing a low-income housing project in Harlem.

After graduation, Angus spent a few months with a large architectural firm, and then—somewhat disaffected—chose to leave the corporation and tackle a low-cost housing project in Jamaica. There he researched the potential of bagasse boards (made from a sugar cane byproduct) as a building material, and worked side by side with local people to construct prefab houses from the recycled substance. Upon returning to his family's farm in rural Virginia, the young designer spent time reconstructing some innovative buildings that had been erected by his architect grandfather almost 40 years previously.

Living His Work

If one considers Macdonald's background, it's not surprising that the designer's own home—a sod-roofed block building equipped with many of the numerous alternative energy schemes he's worked on—reflects a continuing experimentation with materials and techniques as well as its owner's commitment to a set of essential principles.

The architect believes that there are perhaps three basic aspects to good home design ... all of which are, of course, united under the rubrics of energy-efficiency and simplicity. First of all, Angus states, a home should be comfortable (bright, airy, spacious, and warm). Second, it should be no larger and no more complicated than is absolutely necessary ... both to reduce expense and to maintain simple, environmentally harmonious forms that are pleasing to the eye. And third, structures should demand as little energy as possible (and the bare minimum of nonrenewable resources), both in the course of their construction and during their years of use. But the best way to get a feel for Angus's theories is to take a look at their application to homes that he has designed in and around his community.

1/18/2008 9:01:17 AM

I did a google search to find out if Mr Macdonald still in business--He is! His website address is

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