Books on Architecture

Earthships and Related

For living on earth, low impact, in some ways self-contained with all needs for survival provided for (at least such is the ideal). Beautiful, wonderful to touch homes designed and built by architect Michael Reynolds in Taos, New Mexico.

Earthship vol I

How to Build Your Own (1990)

Earthship vol II

Systems and Components (1990)

Earthship vol III

Evolution Beyond Economics (1993)
Michael Reynolds - Solar Survival Press
The fundamental classics for anyone interested in Earthship construction or designing and building anything similar. Covers motivation for building something so different, basic ideas of passive solar heating, obtaining clean water, natural materials (some ordinary lumber is used, but far less than common stick frame construction) especially tire forms for rammed earth, and dealing with waste.
Order from the Earthship Store.

A Coming of Wizards

A Manual of Human Potential - Michael Reynolds - Solar Survival Architecture, Taos
An architect's personal journey from beginnings of ideas, his first domes, to later structures and deep thoughts and visions along the way. Many photographs, drawings. Find out what he means by "spherical vision" and "leaning".
amazon (out of stock at store = may be hard to find!)

Cob Construction

Books specifically covering cob construction techniques.

The Hand-Sculpted House

- Ianto Evans, Michael G. Smith, and Linda Smiley. Chelsea Green Publishing (2002)
One of the most popular and beautiful books on cob home building, by the hard-working pioneers of the revival of cob in contemporary times. Extensive explanations, illustrations and photos show you how test your site's soil, create cob and make it into walls, allowing for doors, windows, and plumbing, types of roofing suitable for cob, and finishing touches. This is more than a just a how-to book, though - one chapter invites you to redefine "house" so you'll start off in the right direction, and others cover in detail proper site selection and preparation, where foresight may make a bigger difference than any of the actual cob work.

Beautiful color plates are a treat in the center of the book, and always elicit favorable comments from anyone to whom i show this part of the book. Electrical and water system are discussed but not dealt with in depth, since other books cover these topics which apply as well to other types of natural homes. Hand-Sculpted House includes interviews with cob home builders and residents. The authors tell their own stories of how they came to cob.

The Cob Builders Handbook: You Can Hand-Sculpt Your Own Home

- Becky Bee, Groundworks Publishing (1998)
A shorter but long enough book with the essential ideas. Hand drawn illustrations, great personal touch to writing. Earthy and practical guide to actually doing cob. (But don't start making mud until you have the more recent info in other books.)

Natural Building

Natural materials besides the ones listed above, and natural/sustainable home building at a more general level.

cover of Earthbag book

Earthbag Building

Kaki Hunter and Donald Kiffmeyer - New Society Publishers

Great photos of houses departing beautifully from convention. Great info on making earthbag structures, especially on dirt and construction wisdom general enough to interest cob builders, earthship makers and other pioneers.

Earthbag workshops at Natural Homes

New Soc. Pub., Amazon, EcoBrain, Green Venturescanadian

The Natural Plaster Book

Cedar Rose Guelberth and Dan Chiras, New Society Publishers 2003
After building the main structure of your natural materials home, you'll want to apply finishing touches that are just as natural. Natural earth plasters to protect and beautify the inside and outside of your home can be made inexpensively from local resources, colored, and textured in many creative ways. This book explains the types of earth plasters, silica paint, lime washes and other finish materials, how to make them, ways of applying them and their care, with many pictures and diagrams including a beautiful set of color images in the middle of the book. They show you what tools and other things to get. While applicable to nearly all kinds of natural constraction, special attention is given to straw bale and rammed earth walls. They explain considerations of climate. Unless you are already expert in the topic, this is an essential book for the final phases of building your natural home.

The Natural House

Dan Chiras, Chelsea Green Publishing Co. 2000
This well-written, inspiring book explains the general principles of natural houses and then explores several particular types,dedicating a chapter each to straw bale, Earthships, adobe, cob and others. The book finishes with chapters covering heating, electrical and water systems, and the natural "green" materials avialable today. The chapter on cob is excellent and gives the reader a good idea what it is, its advantages and disadvantages. The photographs and illustrations are clear. There's also an interview with Ianto Evans, one of the pioneers in bring back cob constrution to the US in our time. While the cob chapter is rich in detail and tips, the serious cobber-to-be will want to peruse a full book on the topic or even better, attend a workshop. The Natural House is an excellent introduction for those just starting in cob, needing an overview of the subject, or undecided between the various natural bulding techniques.

The Solar House

Dan Chiras, Chelsea Green Publishing Co. 2002
Another informative, useful, inspiring book by Dan Chiras. He lives in Colorado, one more reason it's my favorite state. This book focuses on heating and cooling. As with his other books, he explains the pros and cons of doing each thing a certain way. Tables of data to help with decision making - small tables to give an idea of quantities you'll be dealing with. Did you know that when laying on a sofa in a house with radiant (floor) heat, you might feel cold? In the sofa's thermal shadow, in a sense. That is one of many bits of wisdom in this book thanks to Dr. Chiras' personal experience and network of experts and participants in natural home construction.

Materials for Architects & Builders

Arthur Lyons - Butterworth-Heinemann (Elsevier) - 2007
Covers all types of materials of interest to architects - glass, stone, steel and other metals, insulation, wood and more. Gives numbers for some materials, perhaps enough to do rough calculations on thermal properties, strengths, and there's a table of sound absorption coefficients even, but this isn't meant to be a engineering reference guide. It's more a designer's overview of more materials than i knew existed, with brief explanations of what uses and conditions for using particular materials, how concrete is made, what is "visual concrete", or "wood wool slab" and illustrated with plenty of photos and diagrams. A closeup of the aluminum discs on the Selfridges store in Birmingham England. Wow, i didn't know you could do that with copper! Glistening titanium on the Glasgow Science Center. Many types of glass, and how they reflect or absorb visible light and infrared. There are extensive lists of standard, books and other sources for further reading. The main disadvantage of this book for American architects and designers is that it is heavily British.

Architecture, Design and Culture

Bothered by shoddy and boxy houses, bland look-alike housing developments, overpriced "McMansions," strip malls, stupid post-modern buildings, poor land use and other spatially-related dysfunctions of modern society, these architects and observers care about Human-scale construction with homes that are beautiful, satisfying to live in, and support one's well-being. They explore the problems we find ourselves with, the reasons behind them (and even the reasons behind those), and ways toward a better future.

(in no particular order)

The Emerald City

Daniel Willis, Princeton Architectural Press (2000)

with a foreword by Robert Harbison

A collection of shorter writings that will take you on an amazing architectural trip. Visit a hospital where patients actually find healing. Consider stone salamanders and poetic truth. Stories of artificial Christmas trees, the Tierra del Fuegians, Berlin, Santa Barbara, the education of architects, CAD software and the loss of good style, and of course the capital city of Oz. Why was it made of emerald? Willis finds quick reasons to dismiss Ruby, Diamond. Emerald, though, not only works for stories involving flying monkeys; it also turns out to be worthy of a whole chapter of insightful observations in this book. Why do we have ancient myths involving iron, bronze, wood, stone, but not plastic? Only because plastic is too recent? Or does plastic not reach to touch deeper levels of our psyche? What writer on architecture would explore such questions? Good book for a big-picture, several-steps-back overview of what it's all about with many specific stories and illustrated with drawings by the author.

Thermal Delight in Architecture

Lisa Heschong - MIT Press 1979

Ever pay attention to warmth and coolness throughout your everyday life? This book is about people's thermal sense and its relation to other senses, rituals, and of course buidlings. With thermal symbolism obsolete and most building temperatures regulated (or misregulated) with central air conditioning and heating, where do we find thermal delight today? Beds, porch swings, fireplaces, sunny sides of hills. What about paying attention to the seasons and cycles of night and day? This is a short book, a good insightful, nontechnical read. A reservoir of ideas for those interested in passive solar design.

"It is hoped that this collection of disparate examples may serve as a set of references for the designer." - from the author's preface.

The Phenomenon of Life

The Process of Creating Life

A Vision of a Living World

The Luminous Ground

Christopher Alexander, The Center for Environmental Structure, 2002-2005
This magnum opus of four volumes, called the Nature of Order, by the architect who wrote A Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language extends the work begun those initial books. (And further volumes are in preparation...) Beginning with the observation that certain places, buildings, street scenes, bridges and even boats, furniture and cups, have a certain hard-to-name quality lacking in most of their modern siblings, the Nature of Order explores why this so. What is is this quality, which Alexander refers to as "life", what is the difference between living and non-living structures, and more importantly, can we add this quality in a practical way to the things we build?

Many photographs illustrate the idea he calls "centers" and fifteen properties of living structure. Though never straying far from architecture, the writing is often philosophical and at the same time grounded in experience and real building projects. The ideas are general, applicable to other arts, but always focused on the making of pleasing homes and offices.

One day, a friend of mine on the phone was feeling bummed out about all the bland rat-box housing developments sprouting up all over the (pick any US city) area. One of the Nature of Order volumes happened to be nearby, and without much effort found a nice section on the beauty of dewdrops. I read this out loud over the phone and that cheered up my friend. Then some cannibals ate her. (just checking to see if anyone really reads any of this.) These books are full of good hope, peace, beauty and inspiring examples.

I would like to plagarize the caption to one photo in volume III: "The blissful state: my wife, in our kitchen. I have no doubt at all that this translucent smile, this happy reflectiveness, was able to arise in her because of the nature of the surrounding: an ordinary kitchen, which i made not for magazines, but in a way to make our family as comfortable as possible. It is not possible, I think, to separate the life of the environment -- its untidy geometric ordinariness and organization -- from the beauty of that sleepy smile which arose in her."

The books are large and heavy but not unreasonably so. They are pricey mostly, i suspect, because they are provided through a small specialized publisher without the economics of scale that a large slick publishing company could provide.

Due to some publishing quirk, volume III came out after volume IV.

Please visit the Pattern Language site to find out more about Christopher Alexander and his ideas.

Living Lightly on Earth

More general books about green living and modern life, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and the economics, environment and culture we live in.

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight

Thom Hartmann, Three Rivers Press, 1999
Sounding like a great title for an historical or science fiction novel, perhaps - Ancient Sunlight refers to the fossil fuels we burn and use in mass quantities every day.

I attended one of Thom's presentations near Chelsea Michigan in 1999. I took notes.


Dan Chiras and Dave Wann
If you're stuck in the bland suburbs around one of our major or minor cities, you probably aren't going to be free to play with cob or pound tires for an Earthship. You might not even be able to mount solar PV or thermal panels without a fuss from neighbors or a silly HOA. This book explains what you can do! Getting with neighbors, composting, making paths, etc. For those who can't do the major cutting edge stuff (though a photo of Dan's quasi-earthship-like house appears on the cover) but wants life in the suburbs to be as wonderful as possible.

Reviews written by and (c)2006 Daren Scot Wilson - Boulder Colorado / Orlando, FL