Out Of The In Box

While my architectural tastes run closer to Prince Charles than Buckminster Fuller (those damn domes leak!), I have a soft spot for DIY hippie design manuals. I recently stumbled upon Ken Isaacs’ 1974 book How to Build Your Own Living Structures, which contains plans for everything from a simple chair to a multi-level home, all in a distinct modular style. Best of all, it’s available as a pdf for free here along with a couple of other interesting books from the period.

Above is Isaac’s clever cube crapper. Not much headroom in the head, but what a nice view.

Isaac’s work has a playful plywood-meets-the-moon lander vibe. I think I would have loved this modular bunk bed as a kid.

Dwell Magazine did an interview with Isaacs recently:

After I complained about hippie aesthetics in a previous post, an astute reader countered that hippies are the only people who have done grassroots building in recent memory. Good point. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, during the “great recession”, we’re revisiting books such as this one rather than heading to Ikea.

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  1. Geodesic domes from that time period did leak. These domes were structured together out of triangular prisms which, when attached to each other, formed the curving proto-sphere of the structure.

    Two things caused the many, many seams of these buildings to open.
    Ground shift – the natural movement of the foundation caused seams to spread.
    Component shift – the triangles themselves would shape change due to erosion, temperature change, oxidation, etc.
    Every structure faces these challenges.

    Engineering advances have stabilized both the foundation problems and the component problems of modern domes. Those built today are much better than the domes built in the past.

    Look here http://www.monolithic.com/ for a dome design which utilizes several engineering advances to solve the leakage problem. Best of all, since leakage works both ways, solving this problem creates a structure which is extremely energy efficient.

  2. Oh man- this post reminds me of bringing home the Whole Earth catalog from the library in my hippie-bippie youth. I read up on all KINDS of grass roots stuff when I was in junior high, and I remember talking my parents into taking me to Berkeley to do a tour of the self-sufficient house there- it had a composting toilet that was two stories tall, if I remember correctly. This was also about the same time that I discovered the Foxfire books. My understanding parents gave me the first one for Christmas. I realize now at fifty that I should have been working on self-sufficiency all this time, but better late than not at all.

  3. Paula,

    How cool–I wish I could travel back in time and see that house in Berkeley. The Self Sufficient House and the Whole Earth Catalog were major inspirations for our first, and upcoming book. History runs in cycles sometimes! Hopefully we’ll all stick with the ideas this time around.

  4. I don’t see how doing grassroots organizing in any way justifies hippy aesthetics. There is just no excuse for tapestries on the wall and crystals everywhere.
    Aesthetics and action are certainly related, but quite separate. I agree with many hippy values, I just want to be wearing a cute dress while espousing those same viewpoints.
    I simply find hippy aesthetics un-justifiable.
    I think this movement needs to distance itself from stoner and hippy stereotypes if it is going to really gain any traction.

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