Lloyd Kahn, Bob Easton (Editors)
Shelter Publications, 1973
Paperback | 11 x 14-1/2 inches | 176 pages | 1,000+ illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-0936070117 | $29.95
With over 1,000 photographs, Shelter is a classic celebrating the imagination, resourcefulness, and exuberance of human habitat. It includes a history of shelter and the evolution of building types: tents, yurts, timber buildings, barns, small homes, domes, etc. There is a section on building materials, including heavy timber construction and stud framing, as well as stone, straw bale, adobe, plaster, and bamboo. The spirit of the ’60s counterculture is evident, and the emphasis is on creating your own shelter (or space) with your own hands. A joyful, inspiring book.
With a cluster of books on residential architecture this last week (Ehrlich Yanai Outside-In, Off the Grid, The Sea Ranch, Live Small/Live Modern), I couldn’t help but grab the classic book Shelter off my shelf. More accurately, I grabbed it from atop a desk, because the book is too tall (14 inches) to stand upright on one of my bookshelves. The book’s large format and wall-to-wall pages of text, drawings, and photographs mean it is packed with information, on primarily self-built and vernacular houses. It is the opposite of the books I featured this week; there are no million-dollar houses, condominiums by the Pacific, glamping, or apartments filled with store-bought products. These are dwellings for people living within their minimal means or opting for lifestyles that are closer to nature and removed from commerce. Shelter can be read as a history of construction types, a reference for DIY builders, or an argument for buildings that use fewer finite resources.
Shelter‘s large format, tightly packed layout, multiple contributors (or sources), and its dozen thematic sections (from caves and barns to domes and dwelling) make it a catalog — but one of ideas rather than products. It’s not a book to be read from cover to cover, and given that it’s 45 years old, it’s as much historical artifact as a collection of time-tested techniques that might just be pertinent in the coming decades if climate change pushes civilization away from modern dwellings and toward traditional or traditionally inspired ones. A hippie air is pervasive, though this is understandable given when the book came out: 1973, when the energy crisis hit and the counterculture from the previous decade was still ingrained in society. I couldn’t see myself living in the majority of houses in Shelter. While I’m sure I’m not alone in that assertion, this hesitancy doesn’t mean we should forget the traditional methods shared here, or be closed off to alternatives that infuse tradition and modernity in ways that cut our carbon output.
Lloyd Kahn started building almost 50 years ago, and has lived in a self-built home ever since. He got into being a publisher by producing Domebook One in 1970 and Domebook 2 in 1971. He then gave up on domes (as homes) and published his namesake Shelter in 1973.