Following on from previous posts on books about our natural environment and the world we live in, as well as our own historical background, it is now time for a post on books about our built environment and the homes people have created.
I have always been interested in architecture, especially vernacular, traditional and alternative owner-built dwellings, so it is not surprising that we own a number of books on this fascinating subject. Here are some of my favourites!
A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein with Max Jacobsen, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King and Shlomo Angel 1977
Second in a series of books about a totally different approach to architecture, this book is a bible to all those interested in architecture and town planning, especially those who believe that people should design their own communities, houses and streetscapes.
The book provides a language for building and planning, describing detailed patterns for towns and neighbourhoods, houses, gardens and rooms. Each pattern describes a common widespread problem, as well as the core to the solution of the problem, allowing for a multitude of different responses.
Each pattern has the same format:
Black-and-white photograph, showing an archetypal example of the pattern;
Introductory paragraph setting the context for the pattern and its role in larger patterns, which are numbered;
Three diamonds denoting the start of the problem;
Headline in bold type giving the essence of the problem;
Body of the problem: the empirical background of the pattern; the evidence for its validity;and the range of different ways the pattern can be manifested in a building;
Solution in bold type, describing the field of physical and social relationships required to solve the stated problem in the stated context. The solution is always expressed in the form of an instruction, so you know exactly what you need to build the pattern;
Diagram, showing the solution with labels indicating its main components;
Three diamonds, marking the end of the main body of the pattern;
Final paragraph, linking the pattern to all those smaller patterns in the language, which are needed to complete the pattern.
This format presents each pattern in context to all the 253 other patterns in the language as a whole, so an infinite variety of combinations can be selected. The patterns are presented in a straight linear sequence, ranging from the largest pattern for regions and towns, then concentrating on increasingly smaller elements: the neighbourhood; clusters of buildings; buildings; rooms and alcoves; and finally details of construction. All the patterns are related to and support other patterns, like the web of nature.
While this all sounds rather complex, an example might make it clearer:
When my children were smaller, we lived in a large old house and each child had their own room like conventional Western practice, however we found that the kids never slept in their own beds each night, but moved around, sharing each other’s rooms. They liked being in each other’s company, a natural instinct described in Pattern Number 143: Bed Cluster, which is illustrated with beds, inset into the wall of a shared room.
The introductory paragraph sets the context within the larger patterns: Couple’s Realm (136) and Children’s Realm (137), as well as Sleeping to the East (138). The bold type headline discusses the balance between a need for privacy and the problem of isolation for young children in many cultures if they sleep alone. The body of the problem examines the possible configuration of children’s beds in shared rooms; isolated rooms and a cluster of alcoves, complete with a diagram, and the problems associated with each scenario. The solution in bold type suggests the placement of children’s beds in small individual alcoves around a common playspace, again illustrated by a simple diagram.
The last paragraph looks at smaller patterns, which should be examined to complete the pattern like Communal Sleeping (186); Bed Alcove (188); Children’s Realm (137); Dressing Room (189); Closets Between Rooms (198); Child Caves (203); Light on Two Sides (159); and The Shape of Indoor Space (191).
It is a fascinating book, which looks at basic human needs and how to fulfill them, an approach so different to our materialistic money-driven architecture, where the houses are so large with multiple bathrooms to ensure a good resale value, rather than being a home or taking the environment or our basic needs into account. It’s a lovely book to dip into and really make you think and question.
Dwellings: The Vernacular House Worldwide by Paul Oliver 2003/ 2007
This is a terrific book for showing the huge diversity of vernacular buildings throughout the world and the ways indigenous peoples cope with local issues like climate, migratory lifestyles and symbolic and cultural expression.
Vernacular architecture is defined as: Owner-built or community built dwellings, utilising traditional technologies and local resources to meet specific needs and accommodating cultural values, economies and ways of life.
Each chapter examines the environmental considerations and problems and the buildings and method people use to handle these problems.
In addition to discovering different architectural and building styles, I learnt so much from this book about different peoples, their traditions, beliefs, cultures and ways of life, as well as the problems they face and how they have dealt with them. For example, while every child is familiar with Eskimo igloos, I was unaware that the Inuit also have communal clubhouses called karigi, nor that some Inuit built houses with whalebone frames (quarmang) or that there were different types of iglu like the anegiuchak and killegun.
Ancient dwellings, like the longhouses of late Bronze Age farming communities or the stilthouses of lake dwellers, are also described, as well as the wide variety of dwellings created from different building materials like earth (mud and clay), stone, wood, bamboo, and reeds and grasses.
I love the cave dwellings of Saumur, France, and the tufa pinnacles of Cappadocia, Turkey; the adobe abodes of Syria and Turkey with their parabolic corbelled domes; and the stone trulli in Apulia, Italy; the wattle-and-daub houses in England and sod-roofed timber log houses in Norway; the floating reed dwellings of Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, and the whitewashed walls and blue paintwork of the houses of the Greek islands.
In an increasingly urbanised Western world with mass uniformity in modern housing developments with brick venereal disease, it is wonderful to see the creativity, sense of place and attention to detail these traditional houses and settlements display.
In the back is an extensive bibliography and glossary of architectural and building terminology.Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter by Lloyd Kahn 2004
Another wonderful book, which celebrates the creativity and individuality of hand-made shelters, as encapsulated by his introductory quote:
‘Shelter is more than a roof overhead’.
I also totally relate to Phillip Moffat’s quote on Page 31:
‘A house is a home when it shelters the body and comforts the soul’.
A sequel to his best-selling book, Shelter, written in 1973, it contains 1 100 photographs and over 300 drawings and includes the homes of builders, photographers, dreamers, farmers, travellers, traditionalists and campers.
The common features of the handmade homes featured include: Good craftsmanship; Practicality, economy and simplicity; Efficient use of resources; Tuned to the landscape; Aesthetically pleasing and radiated good vibes; Integrity in design and execution; and/ or Wild Creativity! The book and these buildings are so inspiring!
There were some really interesting and individual buildings from Louie Fraser’s shop, a Mandan earth lodge with curved white-plastered walls, a curving shingled roof and hand-crafted furniture to his Japanese polehouse, accessible only by riding a bosun’s chair on a 500 feet cable across a river; Ian MacLeod’s circular stone houses with gauze windows in South Africa; Bill Coperthwaite’s yurts; and Jack William’s beautiful simple wooden home to the tiny dwellings of Archilibre in the French Pyrenees (http://www.archilibre.org/) and strawbale houses, made famous by builders, Bill and Anthea Steen (see later) and photographer, Catherine Wanek.
There were also many photos of vernacular dwellings and communities throughout the world, including Native American shelters; American barns; stone buildings in Northern Italy; Tibetan monasteries, shrines and cabins; the Greek monasteries of the Meteora; Hungarian timber framed buildings; the Hallig homes of Northern Germany (a certain casualty of global warming and sea level rises!); Mongolian cloud houses; tropical tree-houses; colourful gypsy wagons and handmade house-trucks and house-buses. Some of the fantasy dwellings were amazing and quite ingenious: Michael Kahn’s Eliphante with windows composed of old car windshields, silicone together with stained glass incorporated on the inside; Ma Page’s Bottle house and Steve Kornher’s lightweight concrete sculptural forms at Timolandia. They are all labours of love, relatively cheap in monetary terms, though costly in time and a wonderful testament to their builder’s creativity and uniqueness.
Like the previous book, it has an excellent list of recommended reading matter.Homemade Houses: Traditional Homes From Many Lands by John Nicholson 1993
This is a lovely little book about architecture and regional building styles for children.
It covers: Mobile homes (Moroccan tents; Afghan yurts; and Inuit igloos;) and a wide variety of dwellings built from :
Reeds, grass and bamboo: Madan Mudhif; Sulawesi Tongkonan; Samoan fales; and Venezuelan huts;
Earth and clay: Dogon village; Cappadocian cave; New Mexican pueblo; and Syrian mud domes;
Wood: Australian Queenslander; Japanese minka; timberframed houses in England; and
Stone: Cotswold cottage; Apulian trullo and Irish thatched farmhouse.
Like all children’s books, it is a great way to get a quick condensed and simplified view of an unfamiliar subject. It has a simple glossary and a world map marking the locations of featured buildings at the back.
The next two books concentrate on the vernacular architecture of the United Kigdom.
The Illustrated Handbook of Vernacular Architecture by RW Brunskill 1971/ 1978
A simple, yet comprehensive guidebook to all the different vernacular building styles in Britain, though there is a small section on the English influence in North America. There are detailed chapters on :
Walling : Frame and cladding: Construction and materials, including stone, cobbles and pebbles, flint, brick, earth and clay, timber, wattle-and-daub, shingles, weatherboard and plaster;
Roofing : Shape, construction and materials, including thatch, slate, stone flags and tiles, clay tiles and pantiles; as well as notes on dormers, eaves and chimneys;
Plans and sections, including notes on halls, hearths and fireplaces, storeys and staircases;
Architectural details : All the different styles and shapes of windows and doors throughout time; and external (bay windows, porches, wrought iron, barge boards, plaques and sundials) and internal ornament (partitions, built-in cupboards and moulded ceiling beams);
Farm buildings : Haysheds, stables, pigstys, threshing barns, cow-houses, granaries, dovecots and oast houses; and
Urban vernacular and minor industrial buildings, including the terrace houses of the Industrial Revolution; windmills and watermills; and smithies, kilns and textile mills.
In the back are distribution maps and notes on all the different types of building materials: stone; flint, pebble and cobble; brick; clay; timber; thatch; stone flags and tiles; plain tiles and pantiles; and building techniques: cruck timber frame construction; fireplace type; as well as time scales showing the different styles of windows, doors and roofing over time.
There are black-and-white photographs and diagrams illustrating patterns, forms and floor plans, as well as appendices on the different methods of studying vernacular architecture; glossary notes; and suggestions for further reading.
Village Buildings of Britain by Matthew Rice 1991/ 1992
While the black-and-white photographs of the previous book lend an historical feel to the vernacular architecture, the delightful watercolour renditions of this lovely book are equally suitable.
This book also has a different format. Whereas the previous book was divided into sections according to the elements of the building (roofing, walling, decoration etc), this book is divided geographically with chapters devoted to the typical style of building and building materials in the West Country (Cornwall Somerset and Devon), Wessex (Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire), the Weald (Surrey, East and West Sussex and Kent), East Anglia (Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire), the Shires (Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire), the Cotswolds (Gloucestershire and parts of Wiltshire and Oxfordshire), the West Midlands (Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Cheshire and Warwick), Wales, the North of England (Northumberland, Cumbria, Durham and Yorkshire), the Borders, and the Highlands and Islands.
There is a regional map on page 15 and a resource distribution map on page 9 (random rubble, granite, sandstone, brick, limestone and chalk or flint), which determines the building materials used.
I loved the paintings of the individual houses, particular features like doorways and windows or brick patterns; regional maps and general landscapes, complete with chooks, turkeys and sheep. There are also interesting notes on the Arts and Crafts movement, Norfolk churches and Welsh chapels, and model villages and farms, as well as an illustrated glossary in the back.A Home in Provence: Interiors, Gardens, Inspiration by Noëlle Duck 2014
A sumptuous book showcasing the beautiful stone houses- the bastides, mas and mazets, bories and cabanons and townhouses of Provence on the Mediterranean coast. I love the blue wooden shutters, the terracotta tiled roofs and the ochre and burnt sienna walls. The interiors are so beautiful from the terracotta tiled floors and stone staircases with wrought-iron railings to the ornate plasterwork, rustic exposed wooden ceiling beams and distempered walls in ochre, sienna and azure.
The shady paved terraces, outdoor furniture, water features, earthenware pots and vases and gardens full of lavender and roses are also discussed, as well as the decorative features of Provencal style: the polished and painted wood furniture;; gilded mirrors; rush-bottomed chairs; Provencal fabrics like Souleïado (http://provence.souleiado.com/souleiado-story/ and https://www.french-nc.com/shop/Fabrics/French-Fabrics/Souleiado-Fabric.htm; boutis and matelassage quilts; ceramics and glassware; and tableware and kitchenware. This is a beautiful dreamy book for francophiles and homemakers alike.Planning the Australian Homestead by Kenneth McConnel 1947
Written the year my husband was born, this book belonged to his mother and I am including it in this post, as I love the old black-and-white photographs of the houses and gardens of famous old Australian properties like Camden Park and Harben Vale in New South Wales and Cardross and Cressbrook in Queensland.
After a brief discussion of Australia’s early bush tradition, the book follows a logical order with chapters on:
Site and Setting: Water; Access; Aspect and Prospect; Wind Protection; Associated Features; Slope; and Soil;
Plans: Verandahs; Site Placement according to sun, wind and aesthetics; and
Plan Types: Simple Rectangle; L or T Plan; U Plan; Courtyard Plan (which I particularly liked!); and Open Plan, all accompanied by scaled house plans, like the example of the courtyard plan, shown in the photo, taken from page 30, seen below;
Planning the Parts:
Front Entrance: Porch, Verandah, Driveway and Front Door;
Living Room: Fireplace, Ingle Nooks, Windows, Verandah; and Ceiling;
Dining Room: Placement and Lighting;
Kitchen, Pantry and Servery;
Sleeping Wing; and
It is so interesting reading this section, as it represents a time capsule. Many of the essential items mentioned are now obsolete in modern homes. How many contemporary entrance halls, if indeed they still exist, contain a hall cupboard for coats and hats, a sofa, an occasional table, telephone and grandfather clock? There are also many references to the beliefs of the time, making for some amusing reading like:
‘ There is, however, something to be said for being able to shut young children out of the living room in the daytime, provided there is somewhere else for them to carry on their activities’!
How times have changed! The contents of the living room have also changed. While we still have sofas or armchairs and possibly a table in our contemporary living rooms, many modern houses no longer have bookcases, desks, wireless sets or pianos. And how many people these days know what an ingle nook is? See photo from pages 50 to 51 below.
I love the idea of a two-way cutlery drawers (see dining room photo above, from page 61) and kitchen dresser, built into the wall between the kitchen and dining room, accessible to both rooms, which can also take the form of a drying rack, a ‘real boon to the lady of the house, if she is also the cook and dishwasher’, as seen in the photo below, from pages 68 to 69, though most kitchens and dining rooms are open plan these days and the dishwasher has replaced washing dishes by hand!I also laughed at the assertion that: ‘a bath is almost as out of date and insanitary as an antimacassar’, whatever the latter is (!), but that ‘being a conservative people, I suppose that we shall stick to it for quite a long time’, written 70 years ago by an obviously non-bath lover!!!
The book then discusses Associated Features and Services: The garden; water and drainage; rain water tanks; sanitation and septic systems; stables and horse yards; and milking sheds, all of which could still be relevant to country homesteads, though more really an indication of the age of this book!
There is a separate chapter, written by Rex Hazlewood, on Garden Design, followed by chapters on heating and cooling; lighting; building materials: stone and brick; pise; timber; concrete and cement; wrought iron; and paint; and the use of these materials in walling, posts and columns, verandahs, roofs, ceilings, floors, paving, gates and railings.The Australian House: Homes of the Tropical North by Balwant Saini and Ray Joyce 1982/1993
The traditional timber Queenslander house of tropical Northern Australia is a classic example of vernacular domestic architecture in Australia during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The author examines the origins and influences upon the development of the tropical timber house and its components: verandahs, stumps, roofs, interiors and fences. He discusses their renovation and restoration, the pitfalls and things to look out for.
There are over 200 photos of houses from large wealthy city mansions to the humble cottages of factory workers and miners. Having lived in Toowong, Queensland, I was familiar with many of the houses and streetscapes photographed in this book.
I love these old houses: their old verandahs, the decorative awnings and brackets, cast-iron work, roof ventilators and finials, roof lookouts and curved corrugated iron bullnose verandah roofs, as well as their internal features: fretwork door panels, pressed metal ceilings and stained glass window panes. The photographs are delightful and the book provides plenty of inspiration for renovators. It finishes with a bibliography and glossary of terms.
Islam: Art and Architecture Edited by Markus Hattstein and Peter Delius 2004
Islamic architecture is also highly distinctive and recognizable and another one of my favourite architectural styles. This book is a wonderful guide to the fundamentals of Islamic architecture and showcases many beautiful examples throughout the world, their locations depicted in the introductory world map, as well as different historical time periods
Introductory chapters cover:
World Religion and Cultural Power: History; Beliefs; the Koran; the Five Pillars of Islam: the public profession of faith (shahada); the obligatory liturgical prayer (salat) five times a day at fixed times; the giving of alms (zakat); ritual fasting (saum) in the holy month of Ramadan; and the pilgrimage to Mecca and its surroundings (the hajj); and Islamic Law;
Art and Culture in the Islamic World: Early Arabian art; Islamic attitudes to art; Mosques; Philosophy and Science (astronomy, physics and medicine); and Literature.
The book continues with a discussion of the different time periods and places: their history, trade and trading routes; architecture and architectural ornament; and decorative arts, including mosaics and tile work; sculptural ornamentation, reliefs and frescoes; textiles and carpets, ceramics and glassware, woodwork and metalwork; artifacts made from ivory and rock crystals; calligraphy, book illustration and miniature painting; and garden design. Comprehensive chapters, complete with timelines, maps, diagrams, architectural plans and wonderful photographs, are devoted to:
Syria and Palestine: the Umayyad Caliphate
Iraq, Iran and Egypt: the Abbasids of Tunisia and Egypt: the Aghlabids and Fatimids;
Syria, Palestine and Egypt: the Ayyubids, Mamluks and Crusaders;
Spain and Morocco: Spanish Umayyads; Almoravids and Almohads; and the Nasrids of Granada;
The Maghreb: Morocco to Tunisia, including the Berbers;
Early Empires of the East: Ghaznavids and Ghurids;
Central Asia and Asia Minor: the Great Seljuks, the Anatolian Seljuks and the Khwarazm-Shahs;
Islamic Mongols: From the Mongol Invasions to the Ilkhanids;
Central Asia: the Timurids; the Shaybanids and the Khan Princedoms;
India: From Sultanate to Mughal Empire; Iran: Safavids and Qajars;
The Ottoman Empire; and
Islam in the Modern Age.
It is a really lovely book, with so much information and so many beautiful buildings and artworks!
On Thursday, I will be discussing Part Two of this discussion of Architectural Books.