Architecture April 24, 2012 By Nalina Moses
Savin Couelle Villa, late 1970's.

Savin Couelle Villa, late 1970's.

Your book includes houses in Europe and Australia, but the bulk of them seem to be in the United States, particularly California. There’s something about their individuality, as well as the do-it-yourself mentality, that makes the movement seem deeply American.

The 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the book that launched the environmental movement, was translated into more than thirty languages. It triggered a new environmental awareness in architecture not just in America but worldwide. The “handmade houses” movement grew out of that, and in terms of wood-and-stone buildings it found its fullest expression on the west coast, particularly because of the materials and land resources that existed there. As I say in the book, the early epicenters were in California: Big Sur, Canyon and Marin County. There, you could still find great examples of pioneer or pioneer-style buildings. Big Sur didn’t get its first work of modern architecture until 1948, and Canyon missed the effects of modernism almost entirely. The DIY approach is the pioneer approach reincarnated.

Handmade houses are in perfect sync with sustainability, since they repurpose materials and incorporate passive lighting and heating strategies. But another important idea they propose is modesty of scale. Does building a house for ourselves make it more likely that we’ll build only what’s really needed, using only what’s within our means?

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