Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter

Lloyd Kahn’s book, Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter, proves there’s no perspiration without inspiration when it comes to building a unique home.

| August/September 2005

Handbuilt Shelter

The idea of a home extends beyond the strict definition of a house, and this unique Japanese barn/root cellar is a great example of how an inconspicuous shed can become a one-of-a-kind creation and an inspiration to others.

Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors

Looking for the cure to the common home? You’ll find all the inspiration you’ll ever need about unique, handmade and offbeat shelter in Lloyd Kahn’s newest book, Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter. Packed with 1,100 photos and 300 illustrations of dwellings, domes, houses and huts from all points around the globe, this remarkable 245-page book is about the eclectic materials used to make these homes and the eccentric dreamers and doers that built them. Kahn brings them all to life.

Home Work tells the stories of buildings made by people who chose — sometimes out of necessity — to build homes for themselves using local and recycled materials rather than relying upon the standardized products of modern society.

Take Kelly and Rosana Hart’s “earthbag-papercrete” house in Colorado, for example. This intrepid couple constructed their house from plastic bags filled with crushed volcanic rock to form walls with excellent insulative values. The bags then were covered with a low-maintenance exterior shell called “papercrete” (a mixture of paper and Portland cement) that the couple says will never rot or be damaged by moisture.

Throughout the book, the reader connects with Kahn’s love of what might simply be called “great buildings,” the kinds that have been carefully crafted and that stand in dramatic contrast to the typical cookie-cutter house. His passion is to seek out that which is well-made and unusual.

Kahn is one of the most amazing, generous and inspirational people I’ve met. The vision he locked onto in the 1970s when he was the shelter editor of The Whole Earth Catalog and wrote his first book, Shelter (1973), has stayed with him.

Many people, including myself, were influenced by his involvement in the sustainable lifestyle movement. Kahn’s original Shelter featured an article on buildings of baled hay — it was one of the major factors in reviving straw bale building. Without the influence of his writing, I might not have met my wife, Athena, who built a straw bale house based on her father’s copy of Shelter, and Athena and I never would have written our book, The Straw Bale House.

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